Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Words I can't stand

I can't STAND certain words. I've written about words that I absolutely love: susurrus, syzygy, apotheosis. Now I think it's time to devote some space to words that I absolutely abhor.

Of course, there are the words that I find gross simply because the object/action/property they describe are disgusting (and in medicine, there are a lot of these): mucus, which just sounds sticky and disgusting and infectious; slough; fungating (go ahead and do an image search for 'fungating wound.' I'll wait). 'Fester' is a horrible word, and I honestly can't think of a situation in which 'discharge' isn't disturbing--even at the VA, when patients talked about getting an 'honorable discharge' from the service, I got a little queasy. I tried to imagine these men and women leaving the military after years of noble service, but all I could think of was schmutz and smegma (another cringe-inducing word). I guess that's what spending a rotation at an STD clinic does to a person.

Then there are the sexual words that make people (myself included) uncomfortable, because we as a society, despite/because of all the beer ads and Sports Illustrated covers we produce, are pretty deeply messed up about sex. I, for one, have very little patience for euphemisms/slang for body parts, and there are some that totally make me wince. Not surprisingly, the words for female body parts are the most cringe-inducing--in part because of cultural conditioning, which says the female body is inherently disgusting and dirty. For instance, calling someone a 'dick' is a mild insult, and one that I use frequently and with great relish, but calling someone a 'c*nt' is aboutthisclose to physically assaulting them (on the ONE occasion someone called me that, I felt like I'd been dragon-kicked in the solar plexus. Granted, it was already kind of a shitty situation that led to the use of that particular name, but still). I really WANT to like that word--it has a long and interesting history, deriving from the Sanskrit Kunti (a name for the kickass Goddess Kali-Ma) and later, through Indo-European precursors, giving rise to other words like country, kin, cunning and kind. I just can't get over the shock factor. I can't cope with 'pussy' either. Just...ew. Even when it's applied to cats I can't get over it. I'm actually fine with 'vagina,' although it's a little clinical, and 'clitoris' (which I'm really more concerned about anyway--nudge nudge, wink wink). I did have a girlfriend once who called it a 'flower,' which was kind of poetic and Georgia O'Keefe-y. And, OK, a little over the top--but we were in college; give me a pass on that one.

Relatedly, I totally support breast cancer research, but loathe all the cutesy campaigns that have been springing up with names like "Save the Ta-Tas" and "I Love Boobies" (which, BTW, way to objectify women and reduce them to one already massively overcommodified and sexualized body part. Could we try saving the women and acknowledging that in some circumstances, a mastectomy--ie, for the twee, a tata-ectomy--is lifesaving, and a woman is still very much a woman regardless of whether she has breasts? Rant over). Can we stop acting like we're in middle school and freaking call a spade a spade, or rather, a breast a breast? I'm a grown-ass woman. I don't have tatas or boobies or funbags or bazoombas, although--fun fact, mine are named. The right one is Thelma and the left one is Louise.

In the vein of disliking diminutives and toddler-talk, I also despise the word 'panties' when used to describe adult women's undergarments. It has an infantilizing quality at best and a quasi-pedo feel at worst, and that makes me really uncomfortable. Five year old girls wear panties. Once again, I'm a grown-ass woman. The vast majority of the time I wear 'underwear'--stolid, serviceable, bought in six-packs at Target. If I'm feeling fancy-dancy, I'll go to Victoria's Secret and pick up some 'lingerie,' which sounds slinky and French and sexy. I DON'T wear panties.

And last, the word 'chunks.' Several years ago, at a convenience store, I saw that Jack Links (the beef jerky people) were trying to build their empire with a new, chicken-based dried meat product (which, in and of itself--ew). The name? Chicken Chunks. It was all I could to push down the rising bile. I haven't seen them since that day. I can only hope they were returned to the soul-blackening Hell-pit of despair that vomited them forth in the first place, but more likely they were re-released under a new, more thoroughly market-tested name. I feel the same way about 'Chocolate Chunk' cookies--I think it's the whole 'blowing chunks' connection. Blorg.

What are some of your least favorite words, and why?

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