The Etymologist: “That Blows My Mind!”

What do we mean when we call something “fantastic”, “amazing”, or “great”? As we explained in our previous post, “fantastic” suggests something is too good to be true. Calling something “fabulous” or “incredible” is spot on if you can’t believe your eyes. But what should you say if you want to emphasize the effect something remarkable has on you? What if you want to say:

“THAT BLOWS MY MIND!”

Words: amazing, stunning, stupefying

Believe it or not, amazing is related to “maze”! Both come from an old English root meaning to confuse, daze, or bewilder. A maze is something so challenging that it makes you feel dizzy, and something amazing literally overwhelms your mind. So all those puzzle books for kids called A-maze-ing Mazes weren’t as clever as they thought: all that title means is Confusing Confusing-Things!

You can probably already guess why stunning means what it does. People are literally stunned when they’re hit so hard in the head that they can’t think straight. When you say that something is stunning, you’re saying that it’s so good or beautiful that seeing it is like a punch in the head.

Stupefying, meanwhile, might remind you of “stupid,” and it should: both words come from the Latin stupere, which means “to gape at something in wonder.” What does that have to do with “stupid”? Well, something stupefying has such an impact on you that you just stand there with your mouth open!

Any of these words would be a good fit to describe something so impressive that it’s hard to process. In our final post, we’ll talk about what to say when something overwhelms you in a different way—when it makes you want to say “THAT’S BIG (AND SCARY)!”

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