Certain words might make us shudder, wince, or even gag. Soft vowels roll into hard-edged consonants creating an earful of sound that make us cringe. More than the auditory sounds, the words can elicit strong physical and visual associations that make them especially off-putting. We feel ‘vomit.’ We hear ‘phlegm.’ We see ‘pus’ (ah, middle school). We see and feel ‘gelatinous’ in the tomato aspic on our grandmother’s Thanksgiving table. And don’t even get me started on moist. On a diet? Put a little sign in front of any tempting treat that reads ‘moist, and glistening with icing.’ I promise, you’ll have no trouble resisting.
If the expertise of the internet is to be believed, many of us English speakers share an aversion to similar words; the cultural roots of these words are worth examining. Notice how many of these words have to do with body parts, bodily functions, sex, or womanhood. Our Puritan aversions are writ large via the words that make most of us squirm.
Here’s the list:
One of the assignments I used to give students in order to help them solidify new vocabulary involved them writing a paragraph using each of the words. Always one to lead by example, I thought I’d set myself the same task. I gave myself permission to conjugate if necessary.
And yes, I’m blushing.
Absentmindedly, the king picked at his pus-filled follicle. Scratching it raw, he wiped the moist fluid on his rich pantaloons. Reaching for a slice of warm, yeasty bread, he spread it thickly with a layer of the best black caviar in the land. A moist curd tumbled out of his beard, down his pustuled jowl, landing just to the left of his areola. Squinting his one good eye, the other clouded by a pillowy cataract, the king rooted around and plucked the doughy gem from his bosom. As he held it before him, between his forefinger and thumb, it glistened in the torch light. Despite the fact that it might have lingered in his beard since breakfast (given its congealed consistency) he popped it into his mouth anyway. The seepage from its gelatinous center burst into his mouth and reminded him of that predictable result of coitus; something between quim and phlegm. Despite his high standing at court, his consumption of the beard dingle garnered nearly as many snickers from his courtiers as had the time he’d been found, passed out and rummy, in Queen Isabella’s panties.
What are those words that make you cringe? How many do we share in common? Post, tweet, or send me a smoke signal with your list of vile vocabulary.
And for those of more sensitive dispositions, the next post will address those lovely, melodious, delightful words that charm us every time.