Words We All Loathe

content marketing strategyWord aversion is the feeling of discomfort or even disgust triggered in people by a certain word—not because it was used incorrectly, but because the sound of the word itself is displeasing. What can explain this phenomenon? Jason Riggle, a professor of linguistics at University of Chicago, believes it’s part instinct, part cultural exposure. There are some words that just make us uncomfortable, because they conjure unpleasant associations. Sickness, bodily functions, sexual activity, etc. For others, they see how strongly others react to a word and adopt those reactions themselves.

What this means for marketers is that there’s a collection of words that should not pop up in your content, unless you absolutely have to use them, or unless you’re using them correctly. This latter point is important, because besides turned off by certain words, some readers may also feel annoyed at seeing a word misused—even if the mistake is a common one.

See if any of the following raises your ire:

1.) Moist

No one has done official studies on how much Americans hate this word, but considering that it was a top contender at some informal student surveys conducted at Mississippi State University, a Facebook group full of “moist”-hating users exists, and The Huffington Post food section once posted a list of alternative words to use when writing about cake, it seems pretty safe to say that this is one of the most hated words in the country. No wonder the character Moist from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog seems to be such a loser. Not only does he have the worst superpower ever, he also has an alias that everyone hates.

2.) Slacks

Last year, in an effort to decide on the worst word ever, The New Yorker asked its readers what word they could remove from the English language altogether. It was curious to see what readers thought, but ultimately, the staff made the final decision. The word “slacks” was given a dunce cap and sent to sit in the corner. According to staff member Ben Greenman, the word is dated, and for many people, it has an unpleasant texture, like “rubbing the palm of their hand over polyester.”

3.) Teen Speak (“Dude,” “Like,” etc.)

These two were also common among The New Yorker’s readers responding to the worst word contest. Apparently, some people don’t like what “like” has become: essentially a new form of “um.” As long as your audience is younger, it’s probably to safe to throw in these words into your content once in awhile. But use them sparingly.

4.) Zombie Nouns

A zombie noun is a word that has preyed on other words to transform into something that is wrong and unholy—i.e., it’s a noun formed when combined with other parts of speech.  Any zombie noun automatically gets a place on The Atlantic’s ban list. Like “ideation.” Zombie nouns are a favorite for lawyers, academics, and bureaucrats, but all these linguistic hybrids do is bore, confuse, and annoy readers. Using them also may suggest that you don’t really know what you’re trying to say, because you’re not using a direct and clear choice of words. Keep your content short, snappy, and to the point.

5.) Irregardless

Contrary to what some may think, “irregardless” actually is a real word. But Merriam-Webster suggests avoiding it, so if even a dictionary is discouraging the use of a word, you know something’s amiss.

6.) Awesome

This word has been so deeply imprinted into our lexicon that it’s really lost its meaning (and yes, we’ll admit we’re guilty of using it in our own content now and then). Think about what you’re describing before you use it. If you wrote a piece of content that got 13,000 Likes overnight, that is something that could be safely described as awesome. If you’re trying to think of a way to describe your five tips on using Twitter? They’re probably useful, but not awesome. The same thing has happened to “epic” and “interesting,” so describe your content with caution.

7.) Glocal

Often touted by overly ambitious tech startups, even the people in the tech industry scratch their heads over what exactly this means. If what you’re discussing really is a combination of global and local, then why not just use the word “worldwide,” since it’s actually a word and sounds less ridiculous?

Fun fact: the noun form of “glocal” is “glocalization,” a zombie noun. So people annoyed by both portmanteaus and zombie nouns have the double the mess to hate.

8.) Foodie

Who doesn’t enjoy food? Just like “awesome” and “interesting,” this is a shell of a word, devoid of any actual meaning.

Personally, “moist” has never really affected me, and my most hated word is actually a phrase (“post-nasal drip”). But the likelihood of my running across that in a blog is very unlikely.

What word do you hate most and why?

image credit: david castillo dominici/freedigitalphotos.net