WE all know what social media is supposedly doing to our manners, our restraint, and our Jeremy Corbyn supporters, but what is it doing to our language? It has forced some words into such common, repetitive usage that they’re in danger of losing their meaning.

Jumping back to the era before Twitter, in the early 1990s when I was a fan of the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Michelangelo frequently used the word “awesome!” as an exclamation of how good his pizza was, so I grew up thinking “awesome” meant cool and exciting.

Of course it doesn’t. It simply means the inspiration of awe, and awe is surely a quiet and deep emption? So popular culture has given the word an almost opposite meaning.

Loading article content

Likewise “amazing” which is used far too often on social media. As a book reviewer, I often see mediocre novels described on Twitter as “amazing!”

or, on Facebook, a girl’s photo of her latest manicure or HD brows will draw the same breathless adjective.

It can even be warped by this silly overuse into something rude. A Facebook invitation for drinks went out. One person said they’d be there. The host commented this was “amazing.” It could easily have been taken as a sarcastic response.

Our language is slipping out of our fingers due to mindless social media where the writer must be perpetually snappy and short, and where some of their remaining word count must be reserved for blushing, winking emojis — no wonder some words are losing their meaning. The trashing of the word “amazing” makes me think of Elisabeth Moss. I’ve seen her in three roles: as Peggy from Mad Men; as Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale; and now as Robin in Top of the Lake (BBC2, Thursday) In each role she has been ... well, I was going to shriek “amazing!” but I can’t, for two reasons. The first is that it would make me a hypocrite, given what I’ve just written, and, secondly, because there are few fireworks and fanfare in these performances. In each role she has been muted, bullied and oppressed, and has looked deliberately mousy. So anyone watching at home, with Twitter open on their laptop ready to effuse about how Amazing! Stunning! Brilliant! Wow, just wow! she is will have to pause, because instead of a superficial performance crammed with overworked expressions, well-practised gestures and lots of shouting, sex and glam, Elisabeth Moss gives you something slow, measured and subtle.

If you want to yowl that she’s “amazing!” the word will die on your lips and fingertips. Instead, you might quit the laptop, stop counting your retweets, and just watch her in a thoughtful silence. The first episode of Top Of The Lake was strange. Set in Australia, it felt like three entirely different stories which had been noisily clunked together. There was Moss’s character, a detective called Robin who’d been badly traumatised by her previous case, and there was a ludicrous East German revolutionary with stringy long hair. His girlfriend is just a teenager and when she brings him home to dinner, mum and dad are not pleased. The mother, played by a grey-haired Nicole Kidman, ends up weeping and furious.

There was also a seedy brothel full of Thai prostitutes, one of whom has been killed and stuffed into a suitcase which soon washes up on Bondi Beach, with its victim’s long black hair trailing.

The Nicole Kidman scenes were high drama. She recently came out as a lesbian, and her adopted daughter uses this as an excuse to fight and bitch and scrap with her, while her sad little husband slumps around in the kitchen.

Into this wild and angry household comes the eccentric East German who preaches about a woman’s place in society, asks to marry the daughter, and then retires to the girl’s bedroom where he falls asleep with a cat perched on his naked body. Down in the kitchen the mother storms and cries, swearing she’ll will not allow the wedding to take place. Such drama! Amazing!

Other scenes were equally determined to be crammed with incident and to shock the viewer, such as the grotty brothel where women totter around in knickers and stilettos.

But especially weird, in fact so ludicrous I almost laughed, was a scene where some men sit around a table comparing notes on prostitutes. I admit I’ve never been present at such a gathering, but this was surely silly, and could only have been written with the intent of making men look vile and loathsome.

This irritated me: I’m not watching this drama for lessons on feminism, porn or prostitution. This is not some trendy sociology lecture from a lefty professor, but it often felt like it.

So thank goodness for Elisabeth Moss, who tempered the more melodramatic, high-pitched characters with her unique, eerie power. Even when she was just ironing a shirt, reading a letter, or cracking open a beer, she emanated hot waves of dazzling pain.

She seemed pained, hurt, agonised ... but how was she doing it? There were no hysterics or long speeches from her character.

She didn’t fight or roar or try to kill anyone. She didn’t have a breakdown or an accident or a one-night stand.

She just shuffled around, went to work, nodded at colleagues and got a bit surly, all while looking dull and unkempt — yet she was electrifying.

Towards the end of the episode, Robin was called out to investigate the suitcase on the beach, and so the straggling storylines began to merge.

But forget the clichéd German intellectual with his long, unwashed hair. Forget the raging mother with her trendy feminist views. Forget the brothel and the corpse — all the drama here is contained in the trembling silence of Robin, and the prowling unease we feel when watching her because we know her small, mousy frame is straining to contain some terrible horror, and just might crack open.