Posts Tagged ‘words we hate’
Posted by Ben Greenman
Other readers struck out on their own. A defense lawyer wanted “guilty” gone. One man wanted to get rid of “deceptively” because, he said, “it lacks meaning.” (Really? But it has, like, a definition.) A few people nominated “the f-word,” though we were uncertain if they meant the word “fuck” (unacceptable: you need it if you stub a toe, not to mention for other anatomical purposes) or the euphemism (in which case we’re O.K. with ditching it: we prefer “eff”). The sportswriter Rick Reilly (@ReillyRick) spread the word to his Twitter followers, several of whom wished to scrub “Tebowing” from the language. Those people will have to hold their horses; if we can’t eliminate the person a word is based on, we’re not going to eliminate the word (cf. “Kardashian”). The comedian Todd Barry (@toddbarry) had the idea to do away with one of mainstay of language: “Not a big ‘the’ fan.” The axe also came down on “trendy” and “stupid,” “pretentious” and “phenomenology,” “new” and “right” and “nice.” It seemed as though if we lined up all the words people hated, there might be no words left. In the end, there was a runaway un-favorite: “moist.” People, particularly women, evidently prefer aridity. We’re not the first people to document this widespread aversion. Jesse Sheidlower (@JesseSheidlower), the Editor at Large of the Oxford English Dictionary and a spirit-consultant for the competition—by that, we mean that we told him about it, and drew strength from him as we conducted it—pointed out that it’s been written about widely, and he’s right: Ben Zimmer posted a piece about anti-moist forces at the Visual Thesaurus. But without “moist,” how would bakers, meteorologists, and amateur pornographers describe slight wetness? It would also require partial redaction of Nestor’s speech in “Troilus and Cressida” (“bounding between the two moist elements…”). Though the people spoke and we heard them, we will not cast out “moist.” But that left thousands more candidates, some of which we’ve identified above, many of which we’d be happy to put on ice forever. Because this wasn’t a referendum, we looked for suggestions with a certain ineffable precision: the scalpel rather than the sledgehammer. Seth Kaplan (@KaplanSJ) suggested “comorbid,” which he argued is the ugliest word in the language. He’s right, and he receives an honorable mention. Matt Buchanan (@MattBuchanan), of Buzzfeed, constructed an elegant, powerful argument for the permanent obliteration of “pivot” (complete with an illustration that looks as though it was made by a bored second-grader); he also receives an honorable mention. In the end, though, we zeroed in on a set of suggestions that sought to update the language of everyday fashion. It wasn’t something we had considered until it was mentioned; then it seemed obvious, even inevitable. They took aim, mainly, at a pair of words for a pair of pants, “trousers” and “slacks,” proposing that they had overstayed their welcome. After a protracted backroom session—arguments were impactful on both sides of the issue—we settled on slacks, which was suggested by multiple entrants, but first suggested by @Nemesisn4sa. Her prize? Mary Norris, of the magazine’s venerable copy department, will write “slacks” on a piece of paper, crumple it, and throw it away, after which we will attempt to pry the Palomino Blackwing pencil from Mary’s hand and mail it to @Nemesisn4sa. We will also ban the word from NewYorker.com for a period of one week. See you Friday for the next installment of Questioningly. Until then, tweet responsibly. Photograph by CinemaPhoto/Corbis.