Least-Liked Words

[NOTE:  As of August 26, 2016, the Oxford Dictionaries have suspended their hunt for the least-favorite words in the English language.  Too many submissions were deemed deliberately offensive.]

Ok, you know I have to weigh in on this one.  At first glance, it may seem impossible for any of us to have “least favorite words”–I mean, come on, they’re words, constructs.  How can one dislike a word?  This was the response of James A.H. Murray when he and his team were laboring over the definitions of the Oxford English Dictionary a century ago and someone asked him how he could include vulgar words like shit or fuck in the dictionary.  He may not like them, he said, but they were just words, part of our language as it actually existed, and it was his job to take note of them and define them as accurately as he could.

I think, however, when most people talk about having a least-favorite word, they’re talking not about the unpleasant physicality implied by a word, or the actual pain suggested by the Germanic roots of a word like fuck.  They aren’t talking about the meaning of words.  They’re talking instead about the sound of a word, or an inelegance to the way a word looks on the page.

“Moist” as a leading contender for the least-popular word surprises me.  I’ve never had a problem with it, having heard it used in as varied a set of contexts as an episode of The Outer Limits (“Demon With A Glass Hand”) and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “GiveitAway.”

My choice for least-favorite word?  “Pubescent,” and its cousin, “puberty.”  You’re telling me that in 13,000 years of civilization as we know it, we’ve never been able to come up with a sweeter sounding set of words to mark the sexual and emotional development of human beings than these?  We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.  And no, you can’t throw “adolescent” or “adolescence” at me as alternatives.  The two of them sound just as ugly.

But not to worry.  The truth is also a paradox.   “Pubescent” happens to be one of my favorite words, too.  In fact, I’m going to be repeating it to myself all morning long:  pubescent. . . pubescent. . . pubescent.

There.  I feel better already.


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