Fear and Loathing in Lexical Vegas

Over at Language Log we find a discussion on “words we hate.” I can’t tell if discuss is one or not. But some words strike some as literally offensive, or cause physical stress, a kind of lexical anxiety. This is not about disdain for the simple malapropism, or of academic scorn for the wrong word in the wrong place, but of word phobia, a word like some dreaded dog we walk around the block to avoid.

What is the source of this strange malady, a fear of certain words? Perhaps some words do have facial expressions. Lenny Bruce tried to solve part of the problem, the dirty words versus dirty minds dichotomy. In the beginning was the word, and “the fall is into language” (O. Brown, Love’s Body, 257). Lenny may have gone down with his solution in part because we don’t want a solution; we need words we abhor.

So I googled (a word I don’t like, but don’t hate, but like certain tools we’d rather not have to pick up, the plunger, for example, the plumber’s helper, knowing we’re headed for another good word, “by means of suction,” add rubber cup and we’re having some fun here, sometimes we just have to grab it and get on with things – though to google hasn’t always been this way: from the OED: 1907 Badminton Mag. Sept. 289 The googlies that do not google) “words we love,” and guess what? The words we love are the same words we hate.

Perhaps James Joyce best explains words that cause fright: “Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work” (“The Sisters,” in Dubliners, 1916).

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Note.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s