Volume 21 Issue 18 2013-05-17
Congratulations. You have just been named King (or Queen) of the English Language. It’s not all glitz and glamour, but the job does have an interesting perk: you get to choose the one word you will banish from the language forever. The word you love to hate, the one that makes you cringe every time you hear someone use (or misuse) it. But will it really be that easy to decide?
People can be surprisingly fervent about the words they dislike (like fervent, perhaps). Throw the topic into a conversation and you’ll see what I mean—you might end up feeling as though you’d poked a hornet’s nest. In fact, according to this Visual Thesaurus post, there’s even a Facebook group called “I HATE the word MOIST!”
Why all the word fury? Well, it might be because we have no control over the words we hear. We can choose not to eat the foods we dislike, and we can refuse to put on uncomfortable clothes, but we can’t simply tune out the words other people use. Sure, we’ve all struggled through a dismal main course at a dinner party, but that’s usually over in an hour or two (and we can always avoid the Brussels sprouts lasagna by claiming we’ve got an allergy).
Words, on the other hand, surround us all day, every day, both spoken and written. And we have absolutely no way to stop the constant flow of terms like orifice and irregardless that streams from other people’s mouths.
Often, our pet word peeves have little to do with the meaning of the word itself. Take cake, for instance. For most people it’s a pleasant word, bringing forth images of frothy yellow and white concoctions. But for one commenter in that Visual Thesaurus post, the word cake should be banned because of the way it sounds—the way it gets “all bunched up in the back of the throat.”
Another disliked word? Slacks. It’s tempting to think that hard vowel sounds, like the “k” in cake and slacks, have something to do with it, and that soft vowels and consonants are more pleasing. But that doesn’t explain why the word meal rates surprisingly high in disfavour. Which makes me wonder how that Facebook group might feel about the phrase “moist meal.”
For sheer popularity (of an infamous quality) though, the most hated word has got to be like. The poor little thing has been tossed about so carelessly, appearing so often in the strangest of places, that it seems to have lost its original positive meaning.
Still, like has its defenders, and a very interesting history that explains its migration into Valleyspeak. As this ABC News clip explains, like’s annoying prevalence started with Jack Kerouac, got a boost in the San Fernando Valley in the 1960s, and still survives thanks to shows like The Hills.
Far more than just an annoying quirk of speech, like pulls some pretty heavy linguistic weight, taking on roles such as “quotative complementizer” and “approximative adverb.” Not bad for a four letter word.
So what’s your favourite word to hate? Pulchritude, perhaps? Or literally? Go ahead, ban it forever. And if your subjects insist on using it, well, you can always let them eat cake.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).
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