What Makes a Word Ugly?

Why is it some words and phrases out there are pleasant to hear, while others just grate on the nerve like fingernails scratching against chalk? Am I the only person who has such a passion for certain words and a disdain for others? I surely am not. Let’s look at some of these words, expressions — bon mots — shall we?


Some time ago, a friend of mine told me it was grammatically incorrect to say “like I said.” The way that most people used it was in the context of saying something along the lines of, “Like I said, Pepsi bottles look like penises.” The correct way to say that would actually be, “As I said, Pepsi bottles look like penises.”

I started noticing when people would use one expression over the other, and it began to grate on me just a bit when people would say “like I said” instead of “as I said.” Just examining a few laws of grammar makes it clear why one is correct and one is not correct. That leads me to this:

Less/Fewer. For some reason, it really irks me when I go to a supermarket and they have a “Ten Items or Less” aisle. The word less should be used in reference to things that cannot be counted — half a glass of water or less; a thumbful of whiskey or less. The word fewer should be used in reference to things that can be counted – twelve penis-like bottles or fewer.  No more references to that, promise – I still haven’t gotten over the fact that Pepsi was oblivious to that.

I don’t know what it is about the word disingenuous, but that is an awesome word. It’s funny to me because it isn’t the most pleasant word in the world and there are no contexts in which you can say it in a positive manner, other than saying that someone was not being disingenuous. I guess it’s just one of those words that has a nice sound to me, for no good reason.

Another word like that is cogent. I particularly like it because it not only has a nice sound, but I also like the meaning of the word itself.  “That was a particularly cogent argument,” a person might find oneself saying to his friend.

Lastly, I would like to address something I see sometimes in online communication that infuriates me to no end. When I see someone misspelling a word, and then follows that up with the aside “or however that is spelled,” I get angry. Not just because the person is using gross grammar and sicker spelling.

What do you mean, or however that is spelled?

If you’re using the Firefox browser, you can right click on a misspelled word — even if it is intentionally misspelled — and it gives you suggestions for correction.

You can get help with spelling from your MacBook Pro. I’m not asking you to go to the Oxford English Dictionary to go to the sources here. We may be able to read out of order words but that doesn’t mean we should intentionally write them incorrectly.

6 comments

  • Great article, Gordon! It is always a fascination to see what words are considered illegal in usage but then become colloquially accepted in everyday speech. It confuses new writers.

    Like

  • That’s right, David! Then it’s up to us as the old lions to help them along.

    Like

  • Kathakali Chatterjee

    Hi Gordon,
    Very interesting article!
    For some unknown reason I have an aversion for the word – “stuff”; it’s my pet-peeve when used as a substitute for the right word…
    I remember a guy asking me once – “tell me stuff about you”.
    The poor fellow wanted to know more about me I guess but the world almost came to an end before that.
    I simply couldn’t resist replying – “well I have two more hands hiding in my shirt, two more legs and I am an omnivorous…recently tasted human flesh…” – oooff!

    Like

  • I feel that way about the word “whatever”. It’s such a dismissive word that just indicates a lack of caring – and that lack of caring burns me up!

    Like

  • I dislike lazy word usage.
    Katha’s illustration of the word “stuff” is a perfect example.
    My grandmother always used to say that people swore because they were too lazy to think of the correct word!
    I also dislike people who attempt to communicate with me in email using text speak ……..

    Like

  • I agree with your grandmother and I am right with you on disliking text speak, Nicola.

    Like

Share Your Thoughts:

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

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