Thursday, February 25, 2016

Confessions of a Word Nerd

Moist ointment. Leaking papule. Snot glob. 

Whether used in combination or individually, many of us feel an unhinged contempt for certain words. I’ll tell you though, these little nasties sure are attention grabbers, aren’t they? And now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about just that... words.

I understand it sounds a little moronic, but the best part of writing is the words. I love them. Finding just the right one can be, as my teenager might say, "low-key” joyous. Hooking the perfect word and gingerly hoisting it from the thesaural rabbit hole proves nothing short of a literary Heimlich Maneuver sans public mortification and a 90-day ban from Outback Steakhouse.

And with all the lunacy around us, especially the shit storm stirred up lately by a certain apricot-jowled fear pimp, what say we take a deep breath and have a little fun with civilization’s building blocks—both the appealing and the appalling. Originally planned as a top ten for each category, I became too nauseated to venture past five for the list of least desirable words.

So let's weigh in with a few meaty abhorrences then bring it on home with the ten best etymons in all of worddom.

The top five worst words, as compiled by the underworked staff at Reflections of a Shallow Pond:

5) Pus—sounds nasty and is, but let's be honest, who who doesn't feel a slight tremor of satisfaction when the pus spatters lightly on the mirror, blessedly fracked from that oily crease just south of your left nostril?

4) Chafe—actually I kind of like the word ("Keith chafed at the thought of letting Shirley borrow his unicycle"), but I sure hate the feeling, especially after deciding to take a sticky summer walk in my new Levi's shrink-to-fits. Moist ointment time for sure.

3) Stench—just a downright nasty word, both in sound and connotation. The only redeeming quality is that it rhymes with its affable cousins, quench and Dame Judy Dench.

2) Bloat—many probably wouldn't consider bloat to be onomatopoeia (a word whose pronunciation imitates a natural sound, like "splash"), but think about it—what's the first sound that emanates from your body following a hearty beer bong of PBR? "Bloaaatttt! Ahhhhh!"

1) Tumor—an awful, awful word. It's number one on this dubious list simply because I can't think of a sentence where it's used toward anything positive, except maybe "We got all of the tumor."

Okay, enough of the nasty stuff. Here are the top ten best words, as compiled by me, since my staff has already bailed for happy hour at the Ruth's Chris:

10) Crunch—also onomatopoeia, crunch is one of my favorite active verbs— Ruffles, Fritos, Cheetos and Doritos team up with salt and chemicals to make one tasty noise. And when examined as a noun, Nestlé's Crunch, Cap'n Crunch and Crunch 'n' Munch bear responsibility for 4.7% of my lifetime high fructose corn syrup intake.

9) Cream—Not just a superband of the 1960s, cream is wonderful as a sidekick to so many treats (cookies and cream, peaches and cream) or standing alone, as illustrated in this 1973 TV commercial featuring our beautiful Farrah Fawcett and Broadway Joe Namath:



Seems like there's a little something going on there. Not sure what it is.

8) Beer—a great sounding word, it's easy to say regardless of how much you've had. Equally easy to drink.

7) Dutch—I have no idea why, but I've always loved the sound of this word. Delving too deeply can expose some darkness, as it was Ronald Reagan's nickname and precipitated one of the most talked about lines in the annals of cinema:



6) Sweet—okay, I'm starting to realize that all the good words have something to do with food. Oh well, so be it! Sweet must be included since it's been a go-to of mine for dang near forty years. Along with cool, it's kicked to the curb the other generational faddish words, such as groovy, decent, far out and awe sooky sooky.

5) Block—I've always been a fan of blocks, especially of the Lego variety. Plus, it's a word that conveys sturdiness, solidity. How great is H-n-R Block as the name of a tax preparer? Oh, also I wanted to run by you an ad idea I've got for those guys. How about something like, "Yo, all y'all at Arthur Andersen used throw shade at our suburban strip mall workin' asses, but who's laughin' now bitches! Nah, y'all know I'm just playin'. H-n-R Block: Yamo be there."

4) Cash—99 percent of the reason is this guy:


The other one percent pertains to the feel and smell of American cash money. Filthy yet pleasing.

3) Huskies—long before I became first a fan, then a student and alum of the purple and gold, my six- to ten-year-old self wore boys' Husky size jeans and pants. My mom often went out of her way to find "stylish" pairs for me, which makes me remember how awesome she was. Great word.

2) Peace—just saying the word has a calming effect.

1) Pie—Where do I begin? What would the world be without these buttery, flaky, tangy, cheesy, sweet hunks of heaven? Whether it's blackberry, chicken pot, pizza, or even Hostess Cherry, I'm not ashamed to say that pie has made my life a whole lot better. And since I know a person who makes the best pies on Earth, this word must finish the list at number one.

Please reply with your favorite and least favorite words. I know there are a few of my fellow etymology nerds out there, so show yourselves! And eat more pie!

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