The post below was written by Alexandra Boyd-Rogers, an undergraduate in 4301 History of the English Language. This semester the students are posting their language observations to a course wiki. You can read more here–https://wiki.uta.edu/display/ENGL4301/Home
This weekend I had interesting individual conversations with my grandmother, my mother, my sister, and my father about which words we hated most in the world (each independent of the others, so that each hated word sprang to their heads apart from any outside influence, including my own). I noticed quite a few commonalities and thought maybe I might try to make formulas of distaste for some of them.
For myself: Moist. Ointment. Coccyx. Melancholy. For the first two I determined that I have an inherent distaste for [ɔI] preceded or followed by a nasal. This remains true for me in the occasions of ‘annoyed’ and ‘coin,’ but not in the occasions of ‘boy,’ or ‘Lloyd.’ Both my mother and my sister independently brought ‘Moist’ to the table as well. ‘Coccyx’ can be readily explained by the proximity of the [ks] sounds, though I can’t think of another word similar to it to compare my reactions to it. Melancholy has more to do with the sheer stupidity of the word relating to the feeling that of the actual sounds in conjunction with one another. The word could just as easily have been ‘cantaloupeterrier’ for all the gloom it brings to the sound.
For Nana: Wasps. Desks. Armoire. Mirror. Puberty. My nana is originally from South Arkansas and thus has some interesting speech quirks; she chose words she has trouble pronouncing (which has been the delight of my family to poke at since I can remember). ‘Wasps’ and ‘Desks’ were chosen also by my sister (and indeed are words I also dislike), for the [sps] sound at the ends of them. Terribly thought out by whoever made them up. The plural should be ‘waspi’ or should always be singular as ‘pants’ and ‘scissors’ are always plural, i.e.: ‘ten desk.’ My father chose ‘Armoire’ as well, I think as much because of the lack of relation between sound and spelling as the phonetics of the word itself. ‘Mirror’ is like a word I’ll address a little bit later – it follows another hate-formula my sister helped me discover. And Nana simply cannot say ‘puberty.’ We don’t know why. She can say each of the parts individually, but when she attempts to put them together, we inevitably end up with [pjubərtri].
For my sister: Rural. Mirror. Waymond Warren. ‘Rural’ is a word that I maintain not one person in the world, no matter the accent, can produce without sounding completely ridiculous. I couldn’t even begin to guess at the vowel sound of the confounded word (any guesses, anyone?) – all I know is that that vowel sound coupled with the [r] sandwich just sounds utterly ridiculous. This is the same reason my sister (and Nana) both dislike ‘mirror.’ Waymond (yes, WAYmond, not RAYmond) Warren was the name of one of my mother’s friends, and my sister and I have always had a particular problem saying the name – more often that not we get entirely tripped up and say either ‘raymond roar-en’ or ‘waymond wawwen.’ What on earth were his parents thinking?
My mother came up with some doozies: Boil. Dwayne. Rory. Secretion. Mucous. The issue with ‘boil’ is the issue she has with all [ɔI] + [l] combinations (oil, coil, Doyle, &c.). In Dwayne, the d and w smooshed together make an unnatural sound, which to her (coupled with the [eyn] like in ‘pain’) make, for her, an incredibly awkward-sounding name (and while we’re at it – is awkward not THE most awkward-looking word to see spelled-out?). ‘Rory’ contains the same type of issue as ‘rural’ and ‘mirror.’ Secretion is a word I think is less-than-popular based mostly on its connotative meaning, though that impression is perhaps aided by the sibilant hiss of the word. Mucous is just a gross word. Ew.
My dad: Hysteria. Poop. Squash. My father tends towards looking at Latin roots in his determination of whether a word is obnoxious or not. In the case of ‘hysteria,’ he finds it utterly ridiculous in common-use, since it originally applied to the condition wherein a woman’s uterus wandered through her body, thus causing emotional episodes. It means ‘wandering uterus.’ I rather take his point. Dad feels that (what he terms as ‘slang’) ‘poop’ (I think its in far too common use and has been for far too long to be considered just slang anymore, but he’s a doctor and therefore thinks it should always be called ‘feces’ or ‘stool’ [which I think is a stupid term for it – one of the definitions you are intended to sit on, the other you most definitely want to avoid the same action…] or some other some-such scientific-sounding term) is a word that does not embrace the spirit of the thing it signifies. My mom and I disagree whole-heartedly and are fully in the poop-camp. And the final – ‘squash’ – is something my father feels is disgusting as an item in-and-of-itself, and that the name does it no favors with its [skw] beginning and its squishy ‘sh’ ending [ʃ].
So basically, my family is nuts. We talk about words we like and dislike regularly. We very passionately argue the case of our favorites (for me, ‘palpable,’ for example) and we fall into hysterics (sorry, Dad) laughing more often than not. My family has bonded over Waymond Wawwen and squash and poop and ointment (thank goodness not the signified objects themselves). In my interviewing them for this assignment, we’ve been beside ourselves laughing. Language and our opinions of language are important to how members of my family interact with each other. My mother actually just called her aunt and said, “you know what struck me? I really, really, really hate the word ‘boil.’” The response: “OH MY GOODNESS, ME TOO!” (exclaimed over the phone so loud I could hear it across the room.) I guess there’s no need to guess at where my love for language genetically comes from – it’s all around me. It’s something we can all share.