Peeve map abandoned

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Alison Flood, "Oxford Dictionaries halts search for most disliked word after 'severe misuse'", The Guardian 8/26/2016

The #OneWordMap, an online survey soliciting readers’ least favourite words, is abandoned after site is flooded with offensive choices

It was intended to be a lighthearted quest to find the least popular word in the English language, but only a day after it launched, Oxford Dictionaries has ended its search following “severe misuse” of the feature by visitors to their website.  

The dictionary publisher had invited users around the world to name their least favourite English word, intending to highlight differences between countries, genders and ages. When it opened for submissions on Thursday, “moist” was an early contender to top lists in the UK, US and Australia. It was later overtaken by “Brexit”, which went on to head the UK’s list, with “British” in third place.  

But the #OneWordMap feature has now been closed, with a notice blaming the shutdown on “severe misuse”.

Turns out that the trolls are hard to outsmart:

Dan Stewart, head of international marketing at Oxford Dictionaries, said the publisher had “filtered out words marked as vulgar and offensive in our dictionaries, but this wasn’t enough to prevent the misuse which led to the results being unusable”.

Many years ago — around 1981 or 1982 — I helped configure and install a speech synthesis demo in the AT&T exhibit at EPCOT in Disney World. Visitors could type a message and have the computer speak it, which in 1982 was something worthy of note.

One of our goals was to prevent kids (and immature adults) from getting the computer to use "bad words" or to say excessively offensive things. My solution was to try to identify offending stretches of text and replace them with coughs. But as the managers of internet discourse have come to realize since then, it's really hard to write code to enforce such standards, given the ingenuity of those trying to defeat them.

Update — since some commenters seem confused/concerned by the difference, here are some past LLOG posts on "word aversion":

"Ask Language Log: The moist panties phenomenon", 8/20/2007
"Don't say 'tin' to Rebecca, you know how it upsets her", 8/20/2007
"Morning mailbag", 9/10/2007
"The long moist tail", 10/6/2007
"From cringe to offense", 10/25/2007
"Moist aversion: the cartoon version", 8/27/2008
"Word attraction", 5/13/2009
"Word aversion and attraction in the news", 5/19/2009
"The 'moist' chronicles, continued", 8/8/2009
"Six words", 7/23/2010
"Toot chuckle lil' kidnap Snooki", 2/23/2011
"Hated words", 7/1/2011
"Hydrated and delicious", 12/14/2012
"Literary moist aversion", 12/27/2012
"Malady on word aversion in Slate", 4/1/2013

And on "word rage":

"Disgust for voices and accents", 8/4/2004
"Word rage outside the Anglosphere?", 11/4/2005
"Shooting too good", 11/5/2005
"Spell simply and carry a big stick", 12/21/2005
"Pioneers of word rage", 3/5/2006
"Word rage on the witness stand", 3/24/2006
"Language anger management", 2/6/2007
"Do you recognize this rat…", 2/7/2007
"Is it sinking into your thick skull, you high school drop-out?", 2/7/2007
"Word rage–not!", 2/8/2007
"The social psychology of linguistic naming and shaming", 2/27/2007
"Noah Webster", 2/5/2008
"Cognitive therapy for word rage", 3/14/2008
"Angry linguistic mobs with torches", 4/16/2008
"Word rage wins again", 7/12/2009
"Gricean bagel rage", 8/17/2010
"Phrase rage", 11/24/2009
"The fire next time", 5/22/2010
"Ultimate word rage", 7/17/2010
"Annals of word rage", 1/28/2011

And both at once, as (probably) in the present case:

"Hated words", 7/1/2011




  1. mike said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 12:14 pm

    This is why we can't have nice things.

  2. Jan Freeman said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 12:33 pm

    Mike, we can't expect nice things when we're explicitly soliciting nasty things. Asking people to confess their word peeves is generally a bad idea. It elicits either the same old answers or novel, imaginary objections to some usage the complainer happens not to like. The latter can be entertaining, but overall the exercise is guaranteed to lower your opinion of your fellow literate humans.

  3. Jim said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 12:58 pm

    It is impossible to make something foolproof because fools are so clever.

  4. Rube said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 2:45 pm

    @Jan Freeman: yeah, it's too bad this went so badly, but it is not shocking. A survey of "most disliked people" would probably have been even more horrible.

  5. Ellen K. said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 3:06 pm

    It seems to me they should have said explicitly said they wanted least favorite word that's not a swearword or offensive word. Because for a lot of us, you ask us what our least favorite word is, the answer will be in the swearword/offensive word category. Mine would. Those of us whose word dislikes are based solely on meaning are rather likely, I would think, to have leave favorite words that fall in that category.

  6. Ellen K. said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 3:07 pm

    And now that I've looked at the graphic on that page more closely, "Islam" is a swear word of offensive word? Ugh. Very poorly done.

  7. The Other Mark P said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 4:22 pm

    they should have said explicitly said they wanted least favorite word that's not a swearword or offensive word

    That's like asking for your favourite sports team, but not being allowed to name any football teams because they are too popular.

    If the least favourite word is vulgar, then that's just what it is.

  8. Rubrick said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 5:07 pm

    I'm not convinced that the outcome would have been much different if they had asked for people's favorite words instead.

  9. Chris C. said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 5:15 pm

    It's as if they've never been on the internet before.

  10. Gordon said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 7:34 pm

    Moist, moist, moist! Furthermore, Nickelback is my fave band, and I wish I could be writing this in comic sans. Why are people so unoriginal in their dislike? There's a whole universe of things out there to dislike, people! You don't just have to dislike stuff because you've heard that other people dislike it. That's how Nazi Germany started. Probably.

  11. Ray said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

    meryl streep's least favorite word is 'moist.' so there's that.


  12. GH said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 1:50 am

    Is word aversion considered to be a form of peeving by the Language Log?

  13. Peter Taylor said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 3:02 am

    Also in the Guardian: the interesting observation that

    Moist also happens to be one of the favourite words of presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins in The Great British [Bake Off], which began its seventh series on Wednesday and was watched by more than 10 million viewers. So I’d guess the country can’t hate “moist” that much.

  14. Bart said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 3:47 am

    The organisers asked for least favourite words.
    Then they complained about ‘severe misuse’.

    What can ‘severe misuse’ mean? Only that people were being insincere and putting in words that were not really their least favourite words.
    But how can they possibly know that somebody who says that ‘Islam’ or ‘Brexit’ or ‘homophobic’ is his least favourite word is not telling the truth?

  15. Idran said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 4:12 am

    @Bart: Pretty easily, by observing patterns in the response times and/or submission IPs that indicate that a set of entrants is coming from a concerted generalized campaign rather than natural responses?

  16. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 6:31 am

    Some people do think 'moist' is an offensive word. It was discussed here a while ago.

  17. languagehat said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 8:04 am

    It's as if they've never been on the internet before.

    Exactly. This is not about "trolls" or "fools," it's about internet culture, and you can either draw back in horror and collapse on your Victorian fainting couch or come to terms with the internet. The fools are the people who came up with this incredibly silly idea, and they got their deserved reward. Especially since the whole "least favorite word" thing is hackneyed, and as Gordon said: "Why are people so unoriginal in their dislike?"

    [(myl) Agreed that this was a dumb idea, and guaranteed to turn out badly at best. But I don't think that I'd call large vote tallies for "Islam" and "Israel" (and presumably less anodyne ethnic, racial or religious epithets) as people's "least favorite word" just normal OK "internet culture" — what counts as trolling if not things like that?]

  18. languagehat said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 8:32 am

    Oh, I'm not denying that there are trolls in there; of course there are, just as there are going to be pickpockets in any large crowd. And if you assemble a large crowd and take no security precautions, you can hardly throw up your hands in horror if it turns out people got their pockets picked.

  19. Thomas Shaw said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 9:52 am

    I've come across some psychology research on this subject that may interest you:

  20. languagehat said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 10:19 am

    I'd like to see some historical research on aversion to "moist"; I'm quite sure I never heard of it until I was adult, probably not until the 1990s and maybe not until this century. (Yes, I'm aware of recency illusion, but I have to work with the memories I have.) I suspect Gordon is right that people dislike it because they've heard that other people dislike it.

  21. EricF said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 10:27 am

    Ha ha, Microsoft Tay all over again. When will they ever learn?

  22. mike said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 11:33 am

    Jan, you're missing the metapoint of "can't have nice things," which is not about nice things per se, but a general commentary that a few people's actions can make it impractical to have shared features at all. Whether soliciting language peeves (N.B. "intended to be a lighthearted") is a good idea is not, for the purposes of that narrow comment, metacommentarily relevant–it applies equally to other discussion forums, as noted in subsequent comments, or to having free office supplies or a shared candy bowl. It can apply equally to commentary at large (not, thankfully, at LL), and why a number of journalistic sites have simply shut down their commenting feature. People ruin things for other people.

  23. Graeme said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 8:22 pm

    At the risk of a false dichotomy between form and content – perhaps people in damp climates don't like what 'moist' suggests – the OED presumably was after words people dislike for aesthetic especially aural feel or grammatical misuse or overuse. My late Dad would've nominated 'got' as his one big peeve on both counts. The trolls don't dislike 'Israel'/'Islam'/'British' any more or less than 'Jew'/'Muslim'/'English'.

  24. Yerushalmi said,

    August 28, 2016 @ 1:56 am

    I have never understood the hatred for "moist". It's just a word.

    My most hated word is in Yiddish, but my most hated English word is "potential".

  25. Viseguy said,

    August 28, 2016 @ 6:40 pm

    "Moist" has become a "meme", hasn't it? How do you control for that?

    You gotta love "Brexit" and "British", though — and I'm an anglophile.

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