Friday, May 07, 2010

Five Words that Make My Skin Crawl

Today's post is a shameless repurposing of a comments thread on my Facebook page, as suggested by Yvonne Nolan.

I started it by taking a break from editing a manuscript to express my visceral dislike of food adjectives used to describe anything other than food. In fact, I usually cringe even when these words are used to describe food.

Every writer I know has words like these — words that for whatever reason cause irritation, almost pain, similar to fingernails on a blackboard. My younger sisters can't stand the sound of any word that describes a clothes fastening; if I ever want to make them squeal, all I have to do is sneak up behind them and whisper the word "clasp."

I'm a little nervous about listing mine here, because I know you'll think it's funny to drop these words into email exchanges and conversations with me. I ask you, in all seriousness, not to. These words really do affect me like a baby crying or the squeak of a balloon being dragged across plastic, and I don't have much of a sense of humor about being tortured. Does anyone?

We'll make this a trust exercise. Leave your own most-loathed words in the comments section.

1. Yummy. The word itself disgusts me, but I especially loathe it when used to describe a human being. If I want to make myself queasy (and why would I?), all I have to do is think about that scene in The Wedding Singer where Christine Taylor says this word after kissing Adam Sandler. Ugh.

2. Hubby. Something about this diminutive strikes me as insufferably smug and intolerably cute. I might feel differently if I were married, but I doubt it. I doubt it very much.

3. Crisp. I've mentioned this before, I think; I love the apples, but cannot say the name (Honeycrisp) aloud. Something about the way the word ends makes all the hair on my arms stand up, and not in a good way.

4. Utilize. This was, without exaggeration, the favorite word of a former boss of mine, and it was all I could do not to fly across the table at him during staff meetings. Pay attention: "utilize" is never a better word than "use." It doesn't make you sound smarter. It doesn't sound more professional. It just makes you sound like a pretentious jargoneer. I would take it as a personal favor if you would promise me today never to use it again.

5. Moist. Do I need to explain this? Do I really? Its use to advertise things like cake mix baffles me. I do not want to eat anything that's moist. I don't want to touch it. I don't want to look at it. I don't want to hear it squelching or imagine its clammy texture. Get it away from me, now. Please. Thank you.


TienDream said...

_ummy: this word makes me relate to the innocence of a child. The puffy and pale faced 3 year old. Doesn't the world just roll right out? When you enjoy something so delicious, it reminds you of a time when you are innocent and all that's present was the experience.

utiliz_: this is a easy one, subject vs object. Perhaps your boss was a maroon, but maybe she wanted to be subjective. She is never the "doer", you are. So she subjects you to use it, while she utiliz_ that word on you :)

Hi, I read something on your blog while searching for something for a writing class i am taking, I hope you don't mind me chiming in every now and then.

AnswerGirl said...

Thanks for visiting, TienDream. I agree, part of what bothers me about both "yummy" and "hubby" is the infantilism of the sound. Adults shouldn't sound as if they're speaking baby-talk, unless they're actually talking to babies or pets.

I don't understand your point about "utilize." Both "utilize" and "use" are transitive verbs — meaning that they both take an object — and they mean exactly the same thing. The word "use" may carry a connotation of exploitation, which is probably what my (male) boss was trying to avoid. Instead, he sounded pompous and detached.

Claire said...

100% with you on nos. 2 and 5, under any circumstances and at any time. I include 2b, used often by a Facebook friend: "hubs". Yikes.

Thomas at My Porch said...

Utilize has become a national epidemic. Just watch HGTV for five minutes and you wills see what I mean. Strunk and White called this one out 50 years ago. More people need to read that book. I hate utilize, but perhaps not in the same visceral way that you do.

The word that always puts me on edge is "slacks".

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Akin to utilize, I hate when folks use task as a verb, even if it falls within legal grammar rules (and I am not sure that it does.) I want to reach out and physically remove that "T" from their mouth. Asked! I also hate the phrase "real time" since what does it really mean? What in all this vast universe of ours is remotely "real" about time itself? As for words....something about uvula always made me feel funny. I never quite trusted anyone who said "copacetic" since even if they are being arch it didn't work. Finally, though it rarely applied to me in high school, the word parietal, didn't feel right.

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Footnote...I was reading the NYTimes a moment ago and there was a photo caption using one of your hated words--it was about a Moist activist who was wounded in Katmandu. Oh wait--make that a Maoist activist. Never mind. (It did make me think of your post though.)

Anonymous said...

Like Tom, I also thought "Maoist" when I first read "moist" and I was reading the NY Times earlier today, too.

My most loathed would be "pressurize" used to describe a person or a situation. Not the air in a tire.

Though when people describe a difficult new situation as a "steep learning curve" I cringe as well.

Happy Mother's Day from the far side of the globe.


Yvonne said...

Oh thank you Clair! Do some more awful words, I could read 10 more. I'd particularly like you to wheel out some venom on 'decadent'.

Recently I came across the term "nom nom" used to indicate enjoyment of food - makes me want to go drag my fingernails down a blackboard for relief.

AnswerGirl said...

I could do an entire post on food words I hate, which would include not only "nom" but "nummy" and "nosh," a word a (non-Jewish) friend of mine uses FAR too much that makes me want to choke her every time I hear it. (Fortunately, I don't think she reads this blog.) And "decadent" as a synonym for "self-indulgent" is something that makes me hunt for a flamethrower.

Anna said...

I use the word "nosh" all the time, Elle, and I'm not Jewish. But you know I'm a regular reader so I know you're not talking about me. I remember Ashton's least favorite words included "moist" and "slacks". So I take it that when Jen refers to Glee as "creamy goodness" you get on edge. I thought it was pretty accurate!

AnswerGirl said...

I've never noticed you use that word, Anna, but now I'll never be able to ignore it when you do. And the word "creamy" is just vile, in any context, for any reason.

Anonymous said...

I hate "awesome", because not EVERYTHING is awesome!