That Awkward Moment When You Realize You’re Not All That Awkward

The internet has stripped several English words of their meanings. “Like” now means “am aware of.” “Love” now means “like.” “Complicated” now means “promiscuous.”

Probably the most misapplied word on the web, though, is “awkward.” Once a descriptor of genuine discomfort, the word now refers to anything quirky, unexpected, or mildly inconvenient.

I’m all for change of usage. “Hopefully” used to mean “full of hope.” (Ex: The Red Sox fan hopefully attended the season’s final game, only to have his dreams dashed to oblivion by the team’s sloppy play.) Now it’s generally used to indicate eager anticipation. (Ex: Hopefully this bus station bathroom has been cleaned this decade!) Great. Fine.

But something about the repurposing of “awkward” really grates on me. I think it’s because of the new trend where socially capable people pretend that they’re hapless fumbling losers. And it’s leaving us genuine dorks out in the cold. Sorry, pretty girls with glasses. My apologies, handsome dudes who played varsity sports. Awkward is our word. And even amongst the uncool, it’s widely overused.

To be completely honest, I’ve grown from a gawky, goofy teen into a pretty reasonable adult. So it’s a word that usually doesn’t even apply to me that often. But I’m carrying the banner. Why? Because when I was in high school I played trombone and decided to try and grow an afro and wrote school-spirit themed song parodies for our annual variety show. That may seem like a Triple Crown of awkward, but I owned it then and don’t feel embarrassed by it now. Goofy is in the eye of the beholder.

Here’s a handy guide to distinguishing authentic awkwardness from counterfeit discomfort, or fauxkwardness:

Accidentally walking in on strangers of the opposite sex washing their hands because you went into the wrong bathroom: NOT AWKWARD

Your significant other’s mom walking in on you flexing nude in front of a mirror while whispering “I am a pretty pony,” to yourself: AWKWARD

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Saying “I love you,” to a co-worker as you hang up the phone: NOT AWKWARD

Whispering “I love you,” to a co-worker after you brushed up against each other in the hallway after a sexual harassment seminar: AWKWARD

_____

Spilling a water glass on the floor: NOT AWKWARD

Spilling a full beer on a recovering alcoholic on a first date: AWKWARD

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Someone wearing the same shirt as you to a party: NOT AWKWARD

Someone wearing a mask of your face, complete with actual hair they had surreptitiously plucked from your unsuspecting head, to a party: AWKWARD

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Hitting on a girl who turns out to have a boyfriend: NOT AWKWARD

Hitting on a girl who turns out to have a girlfriend: STILL NOT AWKWARD

Hitting on a girl who turns out to have a pimp: MAJOR LEAGUE AWKWARD

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White guy in “urban” gear walking into da club: NOT AWKWARD

Any guy with a comb over walking anywhere, ever: AWKWARD

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Natalie Portman in Garden State doing a zany dance in front of one person in the privacy of her own home: NOT AWKWARD

Natalie Portman laughing like a maniac at the Golden Globes after talking about getting knocked up: MUCH CLOSER TO AWKWARD

Watching Black Swan with your little sister, whose ballet recitals you used to attend: AWKWARD

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Forgetting whether the battles of Lexington and Concord were in Massachusetts or New Hampshire: NOT AWKWARD

Being married to a man who hosts “Pray Away the Gay” retreats even though he, himself is clearly gay: AWKWARD

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True awkwardness isn’t something that could happen to anyone at any time on account of an innocent miscalculation. It’s the product of unforeseen circumstances, lack of self-awareness, and bad luck.

Calling someone awkward is like calling that person racist, in that there’s no good way to prove you’re not once the accusation has been levied. There is nothing more awkward than watching someone try not to be awkward. Except watching someone try to be overtly not-racist. It’s okay to slip up (not, let’s be clear, in a racist way). That doesn’t mean you’re an incurable dork. We don’t have to pretend that we’re all fumbling semi-competent dweebs just because something happens outside of our predetermined social script.

We designate situations as awkward rather than dealing with the actual emotional ramifications of a situation. Labeling something as “awkward” is like asking for a do-over or negating the validity of what was just said or done. But often, the mistakes and clumsiness are more valuable than an unblemished interaction. Calling out a pause in conversation as an “awkward silence” eliminates the vulnerability of sitting in quiet with another person. Running into an ex in public doesn’t have to be awkward. It can be a genuine moment of connection or repulsion. Brushing it aside tamps down your feelings rather than helping resolve them. What’s the use of that other than to insulate ourselves temporarily against excitement or heartbreak or anxiety or anger? Maybe, if we recognize our emotions for what they really are, we can figure out how to deal with discomfort honestly rather than brushing it aside with a quick roll of the eyes. TC mark

image – Stephen Bruce

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  • Alex

    I feel like “awkward” is the new “random.” Also, I laughed out loud at the face mask + actual hair image.

    • Nick

      Random was rarely misused either. Overused yes. That had more to do with the rise in popularity of non sequitur humor.

  • Anonymous

    The awkward moment when this article is delightfully necessary.

  • Sophia

    I liked this article up until the examples. I agree that it’s becoming overused, but your examples didn’t really distinguish what’s awkward from what’s qualitatively not. They just gave examples of things that were more awkward than others.

    • http://michaelynch.com Michael Lynch

      I agree. The first half was great but your examples weren’t convincing. All of those things are awkward, or as I’d put it, socially uncomfortable.

    • http://michaelynch.com Michael Lynch

      I agree. The first half was great but your examples weren’t convincing. All of those things are awkward, or as I’d put it, socially uncomfortable.

    • Hadi

      +1

    • Hadi

      +1

    • istorian

      I agree with the article, and I actually think a lot of the examples were spot on. A lot of things are labeled as “awkward” that would be awkward if absolutely everyone was an enormous asshole, but really, everyone knows that people make mistakes and that falling into automatic modes of social maneuvering can yield some accidents. For instance: When you accidentally say, “I love you,” to your boss on the phone, he (PROBABLY) doesn’t go “WAIT, what the fuck, you LOVE ME? Oh my god, how will I face this guy again.” He probably says, “oh, heh, that person said one of those automatic phone things without considering the context.” 

      Same with hitting on a girl who turns out to have a boyfriend. People don’t carry their relationships on their sleeves, and it’s totally natural to express interest in a person regardless of whether they have a commitment. When a girl hits on me and I’m taken, I don’t say, “What the FUCK was this girl expecting, hitting on me when I already have a girlfriend!” She didn’t know, it’s totally natural, and I don’t think it’s very weird.

      I don’t wanna go crazy on this. It’s just that a lot of my friends are, as web-literate folks in their early 20’s, clearly impacted by this repurposing of “awkward,” to the point where they seem to always be just waiting for the chance to tell the story later about how uncomfortable and incapable they are. Yeah, weird stuff happens, and it can be pretty funny, but a lot of people’s ideas of what is appropriate are very warped–it’s important to remember that folks are, for the most part, understanding, and they probably get where you’re coming from.

      • Asdf

        I “know” about this post. And apparently, at the time of this writing, 10 other people “know” about this post, too. Good on you all, for this post should be known far and wide!

  • Abilgaile

    I love this article…funny stuff.

  • Jesssim6

    Loved the examples.

  • Jesssim6

    Loved the examples.

  • http://twitter.com/WTHKristinity K

    That awkward moment where awkward is the topic. Loljk. 

    I love this article! :) Especially the examples!

  • http://twitter.com/WTHKristinity K

    That awkward moment where awkward is the topic. Loljk. 

    I love this article! :) Especially the examples!

  • Guest

    THANK YOU. I hate it when people say things are awkward. Or “random”, or “epic”. Ugh.

  • Nicole

    Finally, someone said it!

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    The change in use/meaning of “awkward” can be directly linked to all that is Twee, or at least directly inspired by the idolization of Zooey D and other MPDGs. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manic_Pixie_Dream_Girl)

  • Katie

    Thank you for writing this.. really funny and obviously true.  Please do your next one on “random”

  • Katie

    Thank you for writing this.. really funny and obviously true.  Please do your next one on “random”

  • http://dirtyyoungmen.wordpress.com Maxwell Chance

    There is nothing awkward about wearing a mask of someone’s face with hair that I plucked surreptitiously from their head.

  • http://www.oneyearintexas.com Perfect Circles

    Finally someone with the courage to say what all of us who haven’t been misusing the word are thinking.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christian-Ward/1159410233 Christian Ward

    Well written article.  Well done :)

  • Kate

    so much of this i find to be completely off. like you said, goofiness lies in the eyes of the beholder. maybe you wouldnt feel awkward walking into a bathroom intended for the opposite sex, but I would. as a genuine honors student/choir nerd/dork i apparently have the right to use it all i want. and i find that somethimes just saying awkward helps diffuse the situation to a piont where its NOT AWKWARD! but until then, stop pretending to be all aloof and above everyone who sinks low enough to use an overused word. we dont really care that you care, so just shut up!

    • Asdf

      Walking into the bathroom of the opposite sex and backing out slowly: NOT AWKWARD.

      Walking into the bathroom of the opposite sex and standing there, perhaps paralyzed in fear or perhaps intentionally: AWKWARD.

      Walking into the bathroom of the opposite sex and saying, “Oh, shit. Sorry!”: NOT AWKWARD.

      Walking into the bathroom of the opposite sex and saying, “Oh… uhm… erm… uh so-*voice crack*-rry! I’m really… uhm… really sorry. Look, uhm… I’m just… well, look, this door, uhm…” only to find out the bathroom was empty: AWKWARD.

      Real life experience.

      • Kate

        I personally feel like an awkward idiot everytime I walk into the wrong bathroom, but to each his own <3

  • Tadaw

    The most misspelled word on the internet: ‘defiantly’ for ‘definitely’

  • Anonymous

    This article was amazing, not only for the fact that you profoundly pointed and guided the correct version of the term “awkward”, but I also immediately went to YouTube to watch Natalie Portman’s awkward giggle. THANK YOU. I can’t believe I haven’t seen that yet.

  • DisgruntledLexicographer

    Good article. Let’s not let ‘awkward’ become the new ‘ironic’.

  • Caffamack

    I Laughed Out Loud! This does not happen to me. Great examples

  • http://twitter.com/canwin Kaye Flores

    Well-written.

  • Nick

    Well written and funny but you’re totally wrong. The things you describe as awkward are for the most part just awful/horrible. Awkwardness isn’t blindingly painful its just uncomfortable.

    • Nick

      …and the funny thing about it is that its relatable, as it can happen to anyone anywhere.

  • Acidtown

    The NOT AWKWARD things are really not awkward, but many of the AWKWARD things listed here are not awkward either, they’re just plain awful.

  • Anonymous

    ‘Whispering “I love you,” to a co-worker after you brushed up against each other in the hallway after a sexual harassment seminar: AWKWARD’ < That's not awkward, that's funny. Lol

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