Monday, September 27, 2010

Ugly, Ugly, Ugly

Which words do you think are the ugliest in the English language?  Apparently everybody has a different set of words they dislike, and many people feel compelled to make lists of them. 

There are at least three factors operating in choosing ugly words—sound, meaning, and appearance.  For some really ugly words, all three elements are operative at once.  Here are a few of the ugliest, so deemed by various parties. (Obvious four-letter profanities and vulgarisms don’t count.)

In 1946 the National Association of Teachers of Speech issued this list of the ten ugliest words based on a survey of its membership:

            cacaphony, crunch, flatulent, gripe, jazz, phlegmatic, plump, plutocrat, sap, treachery

Mississippi State University Professor Robert E. Wolverton polled 75 students in his classics classes and came up with:

            vomit, moist, puke, phlegm, slaughter, snot

Willard R. Espy, an old hand at wordplay, compiled this list of his favorite uglies for the Book of Lists:

            aasvogel, Brobdingnagian, cacaphonous, crepuscular, fructify, gargoyle,             jukebox, kakkak, kumquat, quahog

A website called puts forward this batch of repulsive abominations:

            smegma, phlegm, pus, pregnant, rural, moist, juror, regurgitate, crotch,             bunion, pulchritude, schmear, scab, sticktoitiveness, discharge, blog, synergy, crepuscular, ointment, chunk, curdle, tax, fetid, routine, honk

Our British cousins have their own ideas. The Guardian assembled this list after asking its readers to submit their nominees:

            crotch, sac, fiscal, gusset, nappy, gutted, rectum, gash, pustule, obligate,          
spatula, privilege, masticate, kudos, boobs, feisty, veggie, kooky, pasty, pamphlet, spouse, poet

What are your choices for the ugliest words in English? Don’t be bashful! Click that comment link and talk nasty.

You will note that the Brits put poet among their ugliest words.  This indicates that they are undoubtedly familiar with the work of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who has attempted to write the ugliest verse in the world (and has almost certainly succeeded).

            Vomit, smegma, phlegm, and pus, all pasty in a sac,
            Schmeared with a fetid spatula upon a plump kakkak,
            Discharge a kumquat ointment on the scab of that smallpox,
            Then honk in moist cacaphony in the jazz of some jukebox.
            The curdled veggie, full of snotty sap--just masticate;
            If kooky, flatulent, don’t gripe or puke—regurgitate.
            A gargoyle with no boobs is feisty, pregnant and phlegmatic,
            For routine slaughter, kudos for a pustule plutocratic.           
            A gutted, Brobdingnagian, crepuscular quahog           
            Has so much sticktoitniveness, you can crunch it in a blog.
            A bunion on a rural juror’s crotch is treachery,
            Pulchritude and privilege fructify with synergy.
            My spouse’s fiscal tax will leave my gusset with a gash.
            Tell me what aasvogel means, I’ll give you a chunk of cash!


  1. Two of my least favorite words are unrelated: mucus and disembowel. But blasphemy is right up there with them.

  2. My least favorite word is cancer. Even as you define it as a blight the word blight is just as ugly.