Blog Excerpts

Words We Love to Hate

After the American Dialect Society voted phablet as Least Likely to Succeed in its Word of the Year Voting, phablet has been getting enough attention that, however ironically, its success seems increasingly secure. Our own Ben Zimmer wrote about phablet for his Word Routes column, and provided expert testimony for an Atlantic Wire investigation into why this new word is so universally disliked. So what exactly is wrong with phablet? Is it that manly men quail before the idea of a "fabulous" personal accessory? Or that the word's "ph" sound too closely resembles phlegm and phat? Or does phablet simply carry the stink of a not-funny joke?

In the wake of all this gleeful word-bashing, we turn to the universally appealing question of what makes for a bad word. In 2009, Zimmer examined words our users had volunteered as their favorites and least favorites, and came to some interesting conclusions about what goes into hating a word, including the headline that people hate the word "hate."

Among our subscribers, the word that appears most often as "least favorite" is hate — not surprising, since it's often paired with the overall favorite love. The runners-up are no, like, and impossible. No and impossible are words that anyone with a can-do spirit would want to avoid. Meanwhile, people who dislike like think it's, like, overused. Overuse is also to blame for the appearance of whatever, nice, and awesome among the least favorite words.

The word that comes next on the "least favorite" leaderboard is moist. Many people feel quite strongly about moist — there's even a Facebook group called "I HATE the word MOIST!" with more than 300 members. One Facebooker calls moist "possibly the worst word in the English dictionary," while another says, "I despise the sick, repugnant word!" It's hard to top the aversion felt for moist, but some other Visual Thesaurus "least favorites" can provoke similar reactions: panty/panties, vomit, ointment, and slacks.

It's difficult to find any unifying thread for these words that get people's goat. But much like the enjoyable words on the "favorites" list like serendipity and mellifluous, there's a certain sound/sense combination that sparks these word aversions. Why does moist merit a Facebook group of haters, while hoist and joist go unnnoticed? It's more than just the sound of the word: the disliked words tend to have some basic level of ickiness. As I told the Albany Times Union, this ickiness can have to do with slimy stuff, bodily discharge, or other things that people would prefer not to think about. Icky words include nostril, crud, pus, and pimple. Ointment and goiter share the "oi" sound with moist: there must be something about that diphthong that gets under people's skin.

These reactions are extremely variable — very often women react more negatively than men (as is the case for moist), and everyone seems to have his or her own idiosyncratic likes and dislikes. Kristi Gustafson of the Times Union is so annoyed by the word vigil that she has to turn down the volume on the television when the word comes up in the news. These deep-seated sentiments about words are very often inexplicable. The Monty Python troupe had fun with these seemingly arbitrary tastes in their sketch about lovely "woody" words and dreadful "tinny" words. (YouTube video here, transcript here.)

What about you? Are there words that, like the publishers of the Lake Superior State University's Banished Words List, you'd like to see disappear from the lexicon? Share them with us in a comment here — and be sure to let us know why!

Rate this article:

Click here to read more articles from Blog Excerpts.

Join the conversation

Comments from our users:

Friday January 18th 2013, 3:00 AM
Comment by: David D. (Seattle, WA)
To start with: Mange. Just nasty and refuses to rhyme with orange. Phlegm. There is no excuse for this word. Pus and spit and snot are nasty and nasty is nasty. Words about murder and mayhem and death and mashing and corrupting are clearly borrowed from the languages of trolls. Why do we say those things? Or - mother-in-law? Offal is awful. Right you are about moist, but sticky moist and stench and ... sucking! Terrible constructions. Rotting! (I feel like I am remembering Poe.)

Other words come to mind, but I need a shower. (I hope it is water and not blood or some green fluid this time.)
Friday January 18th 2013, 8:03 AM
Comment by: Julia H.
Gubernatorial - what's wrong with governatorial? We don't the governor a gubernor.
Friday January 18th 2013, 9:07 AM
Comment by: Chandru S. (Chaska, MN)
cute - i have strongly disliked this word for the past 60 odd years. it sounds so syrupy every time one says it. like sugar dripping down a baby's body! why cant people say ' oh! this baby is so beautiful! or lovely! etc?
Friday January 18th 2013, 10:38 AM
Comment by: Mary Lee M.
Even though we don't like ickiness and mayhem, and we may understandably not like talking or writing about such things, we still need words to accurately describe them. Isn't it the ickiness and the mayhem itself that we find repugnant? Why blame the words themselves?
Friday January 18th 2013, 2:45 PM
Comment by: Rain
I'm sure one of the reasons I don't enjoy eating mushrooms is that they are classified as a "fungus." Not meat, nor vegetable, not even fruit, but -- "fungus?"
Friday January 18th 2013, 2:50 PM
Comment by: Susan L (NJ)
"The word that comes next on the "least favorite" leaderboard is moist. Many people feel quite strongly about moist — there's even a Facebook group called called "I HATE the word MOIST!"..."
Called called?

[Fixed! —Ed.]
Saturday January 19th 2013, 12:06 AM
Comment by: Richard F. (San Diego, CA)
I love moist fungus. I think it's cute. When I think of gubernatorial, I think of gubers in the manger. Nothing to do with mange, I suppose. That said (!) I have to say I don't hate any word, only the over or mis use of them. Why blame the words, indeed!
Sunday January 20th 2013, 2:34 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
What bothers me more than any particular word, mainly, is what people do with it when written: desparate, definate, mispronounciation, and so on. Those are not tricky words, just dealt with badly.

I'm wondering now, just what 'at the end of the day' means. I keep getting to ends of days (thank God) and still, said situation has remained the same, or is not even relevant!

I do dislike irregardless.

Moist doesn't irritate me quite so much.
Sunday January 20th 2013, 2:45 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
Julia, gubernatorial and governor share the same root, guber, meaning to govern.

I don't think your 'governatorial' carries the meaning of 'about the governor'. That would have to be 'governorial' to my weird mind.

I'm not fond of weird. Too close to wired!
Monday January 21st 2013, 12:37 AM
Comment by: Cesar E.
Why to hate a word????
I don't hate that word neither i love it because I don't know what does that word means...and look that word in the dictionary is so bored for me .... I only use this page to learn new words...... but I choose the words if is something important like when you reading a book and you doesn´t understand what are you reading that´s why i investigate the meaning of a word to continuing feeling interesting my book...

I love everyone god bless....
he is our savior and he is love and he love all his creation.
Monday January 21st 2013, 4:39 AM
Comment by: singer woman
Awesome: I agree that the use of the word is how it's used. Overuse trivializes rather than giving accolades to what is being described.
Monday January 21st 2013, 12:01 PM
Comment by: Patricia W. (Downers Grove, IL)
Please make the word "yummy" go away.
Tuesday January 22nd 2013, 5:36 AM
Comment by: Sarah S.
As @angrywordbird I love this thread! I hate those pompous jargon words marketers can tend to love. Words like leverage, gamification, user interface, audience engagement, strategise and when I see the words 'align with' my aorta nearly pops! Personally, I quite enjoy the way some people squirm at 'moist'!
Tuesday January 22nd 2013, 5:37 AM
Comment by: Daniel S. (Bristol United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
I have come to despise the word 'solution'. This stemmed from overuse in a corporate environment but now I refuse to use it even in its simplest form as the positive result of a problem. And now people have started to use it as a verb! This causes me a problem for which there is only one... remedy. Funnily enough, I quite like the word when referring to a liquid, so clearly my dislike is based around meaning and misuse.
Monday January 28th 2013, 8:13 AM
Comment by: Nankz (Indonesia)
hahaaha, phablet, i love but i hate it. hahahaha
Saturday February 2nd 2013, 12:21 AM
Comment by: Gary T.
I have a primal dislike for "utilize" and all of its equally irritating variants. It's stodgy and cacophonous.
As a whilom newspaper editor and magazine copy editor, my rule for writers was: Don't utilize utilize. Use use.
Saturday February 2nd 2013, 12:31 AM
Comment by: Gary T.
Now that I think on it, "incentivize" makes me grind my teeth.
So does using "architect" as a verb, something software engineers love to do, as in "I architected that feature today."
Saturday February 2nd 2013, 1:31 PM
Comment by: Doris C. (Woodbridge, VA)
I am sick of the workd "preception"
Tuesday February 5th 2013, 2:42 AM
Comment by: Catherine C.
How about the word "wrankle" from your recent Tasty Morsels selection entitled "Why Corporate Words Wrankle[sic]"? I have never seen this variant of the verb "rankle" before. I gather it wasn't a typo or an instance of being cutesy with the title because the word was spelled that way in the text of the article also. Is this really in the OED?

[That was indeed a typo, which has been fixed. —Ed.]
Wednesday February 6th 2013, 3:12 AM
Comment by: Dragon (CA)
I don't like most overused words/phrases.
Monday November 4th 2013, 10:31 AM
Comment by: rachel M.
like this do you have a girl friend

Do you have a comment?

Share it with the Visual Thesaurus community.

Your comments:

Sign in to post a comment!

We're sorry, you must be a subscriber to comment.

Click here to subscribe today.

Already a subscriber? Click here to login.