October 4th, 2010 / 10:21 pm

Word Bigot

There are some words that, when I come across them in a work, make me unhappy, sometimes even upset. Maybe for all of us, this is true. We are accustomed to groaning over phrases (too cliche, too idiomatic), tropes, themes, etc., but it strikes me as peculiar, on this particular night, that individual words, taken individually, can also bring the cringe. They’re just words! And yet, certain ones seem dirty, cheap somehow–carrying more than their fair share, evoking too much, taking some of the onus off the writer and moving it onto some collective, anthological poetic consciousness. Too, is word-disdain the equivalent of that prevalent relationship theory–that when you dislike a certain person, you’re disliking the part of yourself you see in him or her? Are you, here, rejecting the part of yourself that secretly, shamefully, is prone to using the blacklisted words, or uses them still? For me, words that put me off  tend to be ones I cherished at some point, maybe when my expectations of language were different, but ones that I’ve since, I don’t know, outgrown? That’s not quite right. Can you grow out of words? Have you? Which ones? Let’s burn some up. Or, burn some sage and get a few back.

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  1. Gabe
  2. Guest

      My librarian, a disgusting person generally, uses ‘joie de vivre’ at least 20 times a year. Sickening. Just so hard to hear, you know? I always think about that scene in 8 1/2 where Guido slumps a little more with every ring of his phone.

      She’s also used ‘differance’ in more than one email, always italicized in case the Derrida stroke whizzes over my head. Just gross. gross.

  3. Kristen Iskandrian

      nice–could be interesting.

  4. Guest


  5. Kristen Iskandrian

      oh, man. extra disappointing, somehow, when a librarian is lame.

      French words/expressions deserve their own post, i think. hard to use them, especially conversationally, without sounding like a douche. and yet, i really like certain ones.

  6. Alec Niedenthal

      Love this comment.

  7. Tadd Adcox

      there’s the whole range of ridiculous business-speak, but I feel like at this point bringing up business-speak as something you hate is itself cliche & cringe-inducing. Still, “impacting,” as a verb, as in “this program continues to impact children”–terrible.

  8. Blake Butler

      i have a friend i’ve been talking to online for years. she spells ‘stuff’ as ‘stough.’ i’ve never corrected or questioned or asked why or how she could misspell such a common word so obviously and never have found out, but it still makes my eyes spin back in my head in anger every time i see it typed.

  9. Tim Horvath

      You have to wonder how it affects her view of matter, too, if she subconsciously imputes an added toughness to it. Like if you’re a kid and you think that cramberries pack more flavor and stough.

  10. Tim

      I dated a woman for a while who spelled lingerie as something like loungeray, because you lounge in it. (?) I remember it probably because she was pretty brilliant otherwise, at least as far as words go. It’s curious though that we can apparently internalize a personal spelling so deeply that we either don’t notice the inconsistencies when we read printed material or just always forget them when we type.

  11. Tadd Adcox

      For a while a friend of mine insisted on using “urine” as a verb, as in, “I have to go urine.” I always had to add “-ate” under my breath.

      I’m not sure which of us comes across as the bigger douche in this story.

  12. Tim

      I think the same disdain we feel for certain words or types of words probably also applies to phrases and narrative tricks (certain patterns of repetition, layering, whatever). All these things, if they annoy us in the particular way I’m thinking of, are probably so frustrating because they try and fail to work at elevating the story or poem to some lofty place it couldn’t otherwise reach–so, as you say, they want to evoke too much and invoke this poetic sensibility that is really just someone’s idea of a poetic sensibility. When you read a piece written like that it’s like looking back on something you yourself wrote a year or five years or six months ago and cringing at the word choice, like Damn, did I think I was smoking black cigarettes and wearing a beret when I typed this up or what?

      I’ve actually been thinking of this a lot today because I just finished a story collection where some of the pieces were knockouts and a few might have been knockouts if they hadn’t been so obviously heavy with their own seriousness, carried low and stentorian (does this word qualify?) in their narrative voices.

  13. Tim

      I’m afraid I’ll have to adopt that usage.

  14. reynard seifert

      don b.’s least favorite word was ‘ineffable’ but he didn’t doubt its necessity

  15. Owen Kaelin

      I don’t think that makes you a douche; I think I’d end up doing the same exact thing, in that situation.

      ..er… I suppose that’s not comforting. Oh, well, I guess I’m no good at this.

  16. Owen Kaelin

      Not so much words as phrases. One old roommate of mine used to say “red sauce” when referring to tomato sauce. It didn’t just make my skin crawl, it made my intestines crawl. The same with phrases like “It’s all good” and “My bad.”

  17. Owen Kaelin

      I’ve never quite been able to figure out what makes a poetic turn work and what makes it not work. How is it that, say, Gary Lutz’s writings, or Ben Marcus’s writings, work for so many of us?

      I wonder how much of what turns us off, poetically, isn’t tied to the notion of immaturity — how many things turn us off not on their own merits but because they remind us of that young, unpolished writer we were in high school or college, or both?

  18. Andy Linkner

      There are so many, but lately, the ubiquitous use of the non-word orientate is driving me crazy!

  19. Adam

      A word I think doesn’t get enough usage is defenestrate.

  20. christopher.

      In pretty much every conversation regarding favorite words, defenestrate comes up. It seems like one of those words everyone wants to like, but no one cares enough to make time for it.

  21. I am a word bigot too | I Will Dare

      […] read this post over on HTML Giant about word bigotry and felt a little bit like, “oh, I have found my […]

  22. gavin

      Ending sentences with ‘at’ makes me involuntarily correct the user. I have no problem ending sentences with from or about, or most of the other prepositions, but ‘at’ just sounds so harsh, and of course it’s usage (‘Where are you at” as overheard whenever someone is using a phone nearby) is everywhere. I also have a hard time stomaching the phrase “really unique.”

  23. Joseph Young

      the word douche now appears in every post on this website, whether in the body of the post or in the comments. that’s a lot of french showers.

  24. Jordan

      Yes, and “enhance” as feeling-protector — “we have enhanced the recycling program to focus on white copy paper exclusively.”

  25. letters journal

      Maybe the problem is the lack of people being thrown through windows.

  26. michael


  27. michael

      i love “it’s all good.” i think it’s a great thing to say in response to someone else’s worry/apology:

      person a: sorry for stepping on your shoe.

  28. Adam Robinson

      I feel obligated to point to Andy Devine’s essay “Words Not to Use in Fiction” in his book, WORDS.

  29. Kristen Iskandrian

      haha. that is outrageous.

  30. Ben Jahn

      When you say phrases and narrative tricks do you mean learned ways of writing? Because I think this brings up the usefulness of imitation. I see a lot of fiction from younger writers and student writers that I know is or will be cringe-worthy unless they know it’s just imitation. Five years later, if they’re still working from the outside (that is, if they’re still letting tradition, or -ism, or their favorite 3 writers allow them to do what they do within their sentences) then they’re probably not ever going to avoid the cringe-worthy language you and others here are commenting on.

  31. Justin RM

      My favourite word is “ineffable.” But it’s hard to say why that is . . .

  32. mimi

      From now on whenever anyone apologizes to me I am going to say “Everything that exists is beautiful.”

  33. mimi

      I know a guy who whenever he has to go pee says he’s going to go winkle-nate.

  34. Tim

      I think you’re onto something here. I certainly remember times when I’d think, man, this thing I’m doing with the em dashes is fairly imitative of whoever.

      I think the other test for ineffectiveness is if the language or the device or whatever just feels like it doesn’t match the tone or direction of the story or poem–or if it feels like it’s trying to impose mor weight on the piece than the piece wants to hold.

  35. sean k

      Interesting, given how “The Temptation of St. Anthony” begins: “Yes, the saint was underrated quite a bit, then, mostly by people who didn’t like things that were ineffable.”

  36. stephen

      i have a friend who says he’s going to go twinkle his star

  37. Ben Jahn

      And not just to impose more weight but to justify a choice by saying: Because I’ve seen it done this way (not because the line, and the voice applicable to the line, requires the em dash or word in question). I think this is about insecurity and the (impossible) attempt to make language unassailable. Maybe we cringe because we dislike insecurity.

  38. deadgod

      Your librarian chronically misspelled “difference”? Probably she’s still just becoming a ‘librarian’.

  39. deadgod

      That is a poughy hylohighlowicism.

      But what does it madder two ewe?

  40. deadgod

      evacuate one’s bladder: make the snow yellow, gash before one’s football pops, contribute to the next lite-beer keg, recycle

  41. reynard seifert

      jeez, i thought you knew everything, deadgod. derrida is laughing nowhere right now because he’s dead but his ideas are on wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diff%C3%A9rance or i guess maybe you’re just joking, do you joke about things, i thought you didn’t like jokes, why do i care about this right now, time to stomp off and walk to the library because with enough time i won’t feel like i need to respond to whatever you say in a minute

  42. deadgod

      Through use-unconscious-of-overuse, cringe-making, cringe-inducing, and cringe-worthy are.

      Oh, look – a dime.

  43. deadgod

      [psst! look at the italicized word]

  44. deadgod

      Ha – cross-posted with your instapredismissal. Don’t deride the bugs you stomp on – they’re trying to be dighgherent.

  45. reynard seifert

      you’re not very good at jokes

  46. deadgod

      – said the shoe to the banana peel.

  47. reynard seifert

      yes well i forgot derrida was previously mentioned so figured you had to be joking, just not what i would call very well, because i couldn’t tell. but then, i’ve been guilty of the same thing of course. jokes are something i think loosely of, and subjectively. also i was making fun of myself and my own predismissals, unfortunately i didn’t make it out the door in time to follow through. i hope mike young is reading this with his shirt off when he reads this. (just to explain, because re: jokes, http://mikeayoung.blogspot.com/2010/04/theres-first-for-every-flugelhorn.html)

  48. reynard seifert

      the punch line is in the italics, i’ll try to remember that

  49. Tadd Adcox

      All of you win. Those are all way worse than “urine” used as a verb.

  50. Tadd Adcox

      Clearly y’all have not been reading your Czech history. Because the three defenestrations of Prague play pretty heavily into that.

  51. reynard seifert

      that is interesting sean, thanks. you know, he also said, “Every writer in the country can write a beautiful sentence, or a hundred. What I am interested in is the ugly sentence that is also somehow beautiful. I agree that this is a highly specialized enterprise, akin to the manufacture of merkins, say–but it’s what I do. Probably I have missed the point of the literature business entirely.” (“On ‘Paraguay'”)

  52. chris r

      To this day, I remember being maybe seven or eight years old and hearing my mom talk a ton of shit about some woman to my dad, all based around the fact that she ended a lot of sentences with the word “at.” My mom was so repulsed by this woman, you’d think she was a holocaust denier or something. Twenty years later it has stuck with me. Anytime I hear someone do this I cringe and laugh at the same time.

  53. chris r

      oh shit… i just said “cringe” in a reply, a little above this one. :

  54. letters journal

      Tadd Adcox,

      That is the same historical reference everyone gives for defenestrate. Have you ever seen someone thrown from a window? If I saw that happen, I would say defenestrate probably 100 times in the following 72 hours. Alas, I have never seen anyone thrown from or through a window.

  55. Guest


  56. Owen Kaelin

      …except that nobody fell.

  57. Owen Kaelin

      Actually, I sort of like that one, Michael. Even better if it were a reply to something totally unrelated. But it would lose its appeal really fast if lots of people started saying it.

  58. Owen Kaelin
  59. Owen Kaelin

      (abracadabra! :post has moved, in accordance with my will)

  60. Shane Leach

      in writing workshops when other students along with the professor use the word “poignant” about any/all stories that are in the smallest bit nostalgic or touching or dark or whatever, i lose my shit.

  61. MM

      an interesting antecedent to opinion is our individual incidental histories, strange and inexplicable stumbles — what makes me me is just circumstance, and we can’t get too lost in our own or others’ pasts, though the soil and seed imprint us, like the memories we attach to songs.

      For instance, to ride Reynard’s sentence, “ineffable” always makes me think Kim Gordon, at her peak of poetics, a moment in my life where I really opened up to idiosyncrasy. “Ineffable” means “spiritual”, meaning “stop talking about her sexuality and chill out to that delightful rhythmic drone in the jam-out section”.