A few days ago, Michelle Pauli in the Guardian's Books Blog asked "Which words make you wince?":
'What word do you hate and why?' is the intriguing question put to a selection of poets by the Ledbury festival. Philip Wells's reply is the winner for me – 'pulchritude' is certainly up there on my blacklist. He even explains his animosity in suitably poetic terms:
"it violates all the magical impulses of balanced onomatopoeic language – it of course means "beautiful", but its meaning is nothing of the sort, being stuffed to the brim with a brutally latinate cudgel of barbaric consonants. If consonants represent riverbanks and vowels the river's flow, this is the word equivalent of the bottomless abyss of dry bones, where demons gather to spit acid."
For Geraldine Monk, "it's got to be 'redacted' which makes me feel totally sick. It's a brutish sounding word. It doesn't flow, it prods at you in a nasty manner."
Both these poets understand that the key to words that make you feel nauseous is not the meaning – it's easy, after all, to hate the word 'torture' – but something else entirely. Something idiosyncratic, something about the way the word feels in your mouth as you say it. The horrors of 'membrane', for instance. Or the eccentricity of 'gusset'.
The expression of negative lexical affect, in the form of word rage and word aversion, is a major concern of anglophone intellectual culture; and so I wasn't surprised to see that Ms. Pauli's post got 1108 comments (so far). In comparison, a post about how "The online Codex Sinaiticus changes book scholarship for good" garnered only 4 comments, a post about Dan Brown's new book got 10, and even "Tips for titillating reading", which tells us that "middle-aged women want to read books about sex more than anything else, according to a new survey", got a mere 17.
And despite Ms. Pauli's plain statement that she's talking about cases where "the key is not the meaning", but rather "something about the way the word feels in your mouth as you say it", at least half the comments are focused on senses or usages that are associated with disliked groups or ideas, or that are seen as irritatingly novel or non-literal. In other words, word rage wins, and to hell with the poets:
Leverage – whenever it is used in a situation that does not physically involve a long stick, a fulcrum and shifting a heavy weight.
way forward; national debate
Partner – when used in a non-commercial sense. If you mean wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend, then just say that.
"Like" in, like, the way, like, its used nowadays….. please just shoot me now!
On the side of huge lorries: 'logistics' and 'solutions'. Both just mean haulage. Probably.
Context is all, certainly, but I cant stand the word ‘comedic, which seems to have replaced perfectly serviceable words such as ‘funny, ‘comedy and ‘comic to no apparent purpose. Its weirdly jarring in sentences discussing the ‘comedic possibilities of a scene or the ‘comedic talents of a performer. It makes my teeth ache and must be stopped.
"liase" as a verb, also "liasing". ugh. it makes my spine go crunchy. oh, let me add "wicked" – just because I'm a grouchy old git.
'Blogosphere' is one word that makes me wince, and the phrase that has me cringing more than most is "Now, more than ever…"
Medal, when used as a verb by American sports commentators.
My favorite , among the small fraction that I've read, was contributed by greenpaua:
[…] sufficient (why not say enough? ie use one syllable instead of three)
More raw material for someone's (as yet unwritten) study of the social psychology of linguistic naming and shaming.
(The picture at the start of Pauli's post is captioned "Pointing the finger at pulchritude: 'a brutally latinate cudgel of barbaric consonants'", even though the the (stock?) photo actually shows a finger pointing at the word investigate. You'd think that the Guardian could afford a digital camera and a copy of a dictionary — but maybe there's a policy against using real pictures for feature stories?)