It was the Buddha who (allegedly) said “words have the power both to destroy and heal”. Though that is undoubtedly true, there does appear to be a crucial emotion missed out. Disgust. Not the disgust that is conjured up by magnificent authorship, by fine strokes of the pen. No, the disgust that is conjured up by a word itself, due to either its usage having warped in modern society into a symbol of all that is wrong with the world today, or just because they sound a bit… nauseating.
In reverse order (to make it that bit more exciting), here are the five words that deserve nothing more than fire and brimstone. A lot of fire. (Not so much brimstone. There’s not much about as it is. Unless you use the Brimstone moth. But surely that would possess an equally limited effect, for the moth would merely fly into the fire…?)
5. Pathetic fallacy
Example: the clouds grumbled quietly among themselves
I’m really spoiling you now, it’s a BOGOF (and if this list returns, that’s going straight down on it). I don’t have any mental image problems with this, just the fact that something which is actually a strangely beautiful literary technique has been so distorted. The words make the technique sound weak (that would be the ‘pathetic’ talking) and open to error (‘fallacy’ sounds strangely similar to ‘fallible’).
Example: it was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done
This has got to be one of the most misused words around at the minute. It seems to have wormed its way inside teenagers’ heads (including, unfortunately, mine) and can’t get out. It seems to be occupying a new role as a casual emphasiser to make feats sound even more impressive.
Example: the corpse had now entered the fifth stage of death and begun to putrify
As with puke, putrify conjures up images for most (especially those fans of detective dramas). Unpleasant images. Corpses with bloated faces (and don’t think ‘bloated’ has escaped), things which still have the semblance of people-but are undeniably no longer people.
Example: he was puking left right and center, it was literally disgusting
Puke is a bit like the verbal form of the condition. A bit horrible and no-one really wants to look at it. It’s an ugly word, it sticks on the tongue, and has a harsh sound. Enough reasons? It’s not as clinical as ‘sick’, nor as literal as ‘throwing up’, so it’s left with a word that has ramifications and a single usage associated entirely with one act which is not very pleasant in itself.
Example: the amount of food involved within gastronomy is simply staggering
This is nothing to do with the near compound words of ‘gas’ and ‘astronomy’ (which together conjure up all sorts of unpleasant images), but more…. OK, it probably is to do with that. It’s an ugly looking word that doesn’t look anywhere as appetising as such a word should do.
Are there any words (or phrases) that get your goat? And then is it the mental image, the distortion of meaning, or just the improper usage that you dislike (or hate)?
This post was inspired by the excellent list at 101 Books