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May 3, 2012 / Amy Bradney-George

What’s In A Word?

Words can be a friend or foe but which are which?

One of the most interesting things about language is the way that it constantly evolves. Convenience, trends, creative license and all kinds of other things influence the words and phrases we use (as well as the ones we make up).

After a recent article and discussion on Mamamia about words people hate, I decided it would be interesting for me to write about words and phrases that I hate and love.

As I noted in my comment on the Mamamia article, I am seriously bothered by people who should write in Australian English using “-ize” instead of “-ise” (as in “criticize” instead of “criticise”). The only exception I make is with the word Americanize because I think the use of “-ize” in that context is fairly apt. As for words, here are a few that grate on me:

  • Whilst: I don’t know why it bothers me so, but usually “while” is a more straightforward option.
  • Vajayjay: Really? I mean we have more than enough euphemisms, so what’s the point of this word?
  • Nom: I just like “yum” better.
  • Cray: Fine when referring to fish, but not so much when subbed for “crazy”
  • Awesomesauce: I like logic.
  • Fustrated: More a mispronunciation than anything else. It really FRUSTRATES me though.
  • Mischeivious: Another mispronunciation – there’s no “i” after the “v”.

Again, exceptions for people who use these words ironically, but in general they can really bother me. Similarly “jealous much” or any such use of the word “much” gets my gall, as does word misuse. Things like “without further adieu” or “I could care less” will either send me over the edge or crack me up.

But I do love some phrases that don’t make sense purely because they are incorrect. My favourite is “a whole nother”. I’m also a fan of sentences where “is” repeats, such as “what it is is a way of talking” (and this appreciation is usually limited to verbal English) and “I heart…” instead of “I love”. I think the latter is cute.

Since the Mamamia article I read focused on hated words, as did the interesting piece from The New Yorker that inspired it, I thought I’d also look at words I like. At the moment they include:

  • Liminal: It sounds cool and the concept is fascinating – it is being in a transitional state or in-between things. The Merriam-Webster site has more definitions too.
  • Veritable: Such a great intensifier.
  • Canker blossom: Technically two words, but one of my favourite insults from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Fester: One of those brilliant words that sounds like what it means.
  • Gloam: Similar to “twilight” but with connotations of “gloom”. I came across it in Keats’ poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci during uni and have loved it ever since.
  • Whist: A pretty way to show silence. Reminds me of Ariel’s line in The Tempest “…Curtsey when you have and kiss/The wild waves whist”
  • Woo: I think this word needs to make a comeback. Woo me with it!
  • Hark: As above. There are so many words we never use in conversation that sound so pretty.
  • Verisimilitude: This is one of those words you can use to sound smart.
  • Metonymy: I love the way it rolls off the tongue.

Another of my favourites, though not actually English, is the German word Fußgänger*. It just sounds so cool.

I’m also interested by the changes that English is experiencing at the moment. Social media, phones and an omniscient (though inexplicable) sense of urgency has led to heaps of abbreviations. Words like “totes”, “whatevs” and “devo” are curiosities and I can’t help but wonder if they’ll stay or leave in a few years.

It seems as though people are starting to play with language more. On one level that’s exciting, but on another it makes me wonder if people truly appreciate how rich English is already and how easy it will be to keep up. The first time someone said “Ily” to me (in an actual conversation) I had NO idea what they meant – my little brother had to explain that it was an abbreviation.

With so many people engaging in written communication, we’re in a unique position to see what comes next for English. I only hope spelling, grammar and pronunciation don’t get lost along the way.

*Fußgänger means pedestrian and I believe it should stand in place of the English word forevermore.

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