Most Unfavorite Words
I’ve long felt the essential particle of utterance is more the phrase than the word, but in truth a phrase is just a long word. Funny how we reduce the fluid mystery of language to words. Like anything posturing as separate, words are illusions. The reality is the thought, a bloom of meaning in the boundaryless flow of continual perception and response we call life, for lack of a better word, and of which language is only a crude translation.
For all that, words are actually fascinating inventions, and give us something to do. We wouldn’t have crossword puzzles, for example, without them. We couldn’t play Hangman. Of course there are words. I just used some.
In book reviews I refuse to read past the first appearance of the word “magisterial”—and in fiction I cannot go any further than the first time a character “munches” something. These are honest prejudices, formed over a lifetime of reading, and remind me that there are certain words, like foods (squash casserole) or smells (the dying of summer) or sounds (unmuffled motors) or colors (blood blister red) that one simply finds distasteful.
I’m not much of a lister, but I do have certain unfavorite words and I thought it would be tidy to put them in a column. I do not pretend that the entries are exhaustive—they’re just the ones I thought of today. Many others lurk in the weeds, like copperheads.
Some people no doubt will be puzzled by my list. Why not puke or snot? they will ask. Because it’s the marriage of distasteful meaning and the hideousness of the word itself that earns its place on the list. Sometimes more the meaning, sometimes less, but always the word itself. I didn’t say the “sound”—it’s more than that. The sound is just a perfect metaphor for it, but the word itself has aged into a ripeness where maggots crawl in it. Puke and snot may mean unpleasant things, but they aren’t hideous words. Monosyllabic Germanic expletives rarely are. They help us get through life.
I offer my most unfavorite words. What are yours?
April 18, 2019