Why Do We Hate Certain Words? / by Anne Kreamer

A while back, Matthew J.X. Malady wrote about the fascinating phenomenon of word aversion for Slate.  Most of us have words we dislike for emotional reasons -- they sound harsh 


or connote something gross(ish) 




"But first, some background is in order.  The phenomenon of word aversion seemingly pedestrian, inoffensive words driving some people up the wall—has garnered increasing attention over the past decade or so. In a recent post onLanguage Log, University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Libermandefined the concept as “a feeling of intense, irrational distaste for the sound or sight of a particular word or phrase, not because its use is regarded as etymologically or logically or grammatically wrong, nor because it’s felt to be over-used or redundant or trendy or non-standard, but simply because the word itself somehow feels unpleasant or even disgusting.”

So we’re not talking about hating how some people say laxadaisical instead of lackadaisical or wanting to vigorously shake teenagers who can’t avoid using the word like between every other word of a sentence. If you can’t stand the word tax because you dislike paying taxes, that’s something else, too. (When recently asked about whether he harbored any word aversions, Harvard University cognition and education professor Howard Gardner offered upwebinar, noting that these events take too much time to set up, often lack the requisite organization, and usually result in “a singularly unpleasant experience.” All true, of course, but that sort of antipathy is not what word aversion is all about.)

Word aversion is marked by strong reactions triggered by the sound, sight, and sometimes even the thought of certain words, according to Liberman. “Not to the things that they refer to, but to the word itself,” he adds. “The feelings involved seem to be something like disgust.”  (to read more....)