Monday, June 27, 2016

Bad Words

“Word aversion”—the phenomenon of feeling repugnance toward certain words, not necessarily connected to their meaning, was the topic of a recent New York Times article. Studies have been done at Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Chicago to try to determine what causes this reaction. So far the results are inconclusive.

The Times asked its readers to submit words which repulsed them, and the most frequently disgusting word was moist. Despite its positive associations with such things as chocolate cake and fertile soil, moist also apparently makes people think of bodily fluids. Similar connections with sexual, excretory, or other bodily functions no doubt account for the loathing of such words as groin, crotch, belly, flesh, flabby, tummy, turd, pimple, plaque, pustule, piehole, fart, flatulence, discharge, panties, douche, brassiere, and bosom.

Less easy to explain is the aversion reported by readers to gulp, gargle, grunt, groan, and gasp. The infantile silliness of such words as hubby, tummy, and yummy provides a rationale for their unpopularity.

But I’m stumped when I try to think of what might cause aversion to husband, fiduciary, crucial, whoosh, unguent, orchards, pulchritude, charcuterie, lugubrious, placate, cornucopia, fudge, squab, meal, and velvet, all of which received multiple thumbs-down from Times readers.

Readers of the verses of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou have reported aversions to every word he uses, including “and” and “the.” 

            A most fastidious Persian
            Suffered extreme word aversion,
                        His vocabulary
                        Offered up nary
            A word that escaped his aspersion.

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