Where would we be without words? Aside from a real difficulty telling a bartender what you would like to drink, there would be no lit-tra-ture, no Shakespeare, Hemingway, Byron, Yeats or Kerouac. It is not the purpose of this post to opine on the relative merits of authors and poets, ranking and critiquing them as to their command of the language. Rather I would like to pause for a moment and consider those words that are pleasing to our ears, those that bring a sense of pleasure in their pronunciation… and those that don’t. This list was not developed with extensive research. Only the most cursory search on the internet resulted in any additions to my notebook. Most of the entries are a collection of my own, developed over time and many nights of too much red wine, sitting with friends and uttering, “Hey, don’t you think the word discharge sounds nasty?” So let us begin.
What makes a word sound nice? To begin with it cannot – I repeat cannot- bring forth any images that might prove to be unsettling to the speaker. For this reason any list of good and bad words must be highly subjective and I fully anticipate objection, arguments and affirmations from every reader. Speaking for myself, good words must roll off the tongue smoothly, velvety even, and bring forth smile and/or laugher. Take for example our first word, dookie. While meaning something slightly objectionable if encountered in the middle of say, a dining room table, the word itself is satisfying and straightforward with only the simplest two syllables. The same cannot be said for our next seven words. These fit into the “I wents to college and gots a degree” section. Like our first word, these roll of the tongue in a satisfying way, but incorporate more syllables and challenging pronunciation. However, they practically beg to be used in everyday conversation. They exist in my notebook for one reason; they wait in anticipation for the day when someone says, “Forster you suck,” thereby giving me the opportunity to turn and in a haughty tone reply, “I suck? Why you obsequious, truculent, altruistic, obstreperous, injudicious curmudgeonly sycophant.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it mister!
Apropos to our present subject I give you the “I haven’t a clue” list. These particular words forced a retreat to the dictionary to bolster my glaringly limited vocabulary. Like other complex words they beg to be used, so in view of the fact that I shall never have an opportunity to use these words in everyday conversation, I shall use them here. “A frisson of excitement passed through my oblongata upon learning that attempting to use big words was emblematic of the American zeitgeist.” Oh, and ohms (sorry couldn’t work that one in). Other words that must be included in any list of “good words” are:
Mcguffin – sounds like a naughty smell released in small room.
Cummerbund – could be a sex act involving a silk kerchief, plastic bag and small rodent.
Cellar – for some reason linguists seem to like this one, convention says that it is the most satisfying word in the English language to pronounce. Think about that and then try saying cellar door without sounding ridiculous.
Areola – a great word that every teenage boy will commit to memory.
Armageddon – certainly in the worldwide zeitgeist at the moment, being that we were all supposed to meet it last Saturday.
And now, inevitably, we have arrived at unsettling words, those that make us screw up our noses in distaste and say, ughh! As stated above, it is my contention that it is the images these words covey to the speaker that results in distaste. These images vary greatly because they are subjective and personal. And with that, let’s dive right in to my list. Many of these words are “bad” alone but when used in combination result in some kind of reverse “law of diminishing returns”, a universal law of inevitable increases if you will! For example if someone said the word moist to you, might greet the utterance with a mild head tilt and grimace. But if someone said “a moist, damp, viscous crevice masticating on a goulash of phlegm, issuing forth a globule of puss” you might “issue forth” a little yourself. Obviously any situation fitting the above description would be in immediate need of a serious dose of ointment, thrusting the nodule deeply into said crevice… I’m sure that the ointment would just splurge out!
And now that I have had the pleasure of my breakfast, lunch and dinner passing through my throat twice in one day I might as well also add the word seminary to the mix. Without belaboring the real definition at all, I would just like to point out that it sounds like a repository for “man seed.” I would also like to submit the following for your consideration:
Futtock – part of an old ship, but it sounds like something one might engage in under a railway bridge.
Panties – I can’t even read this word without blushing. It just sounds so, so, dirty! Only banana hammock or bog catchers restore my composure.
Gesticulate – no one should be guilty of this, bad, bad!
Words that sound dirty but are not:
Many words, innocent though they are, are greeted almost involuntarily with guffaws and elbow nudging (most commonly among males). Aside from the obvious; hard, stiff, engorge, etc, etc, there are many everyday words that could, quite easily mean something completely different. For example, the word subpoena while typically referring to a writ compelling testimony (yo, he just said testy – ha ha) sounds like it could be describing a less than well endowed man. Prostrate being something very important to the world’s religious observances may also be something you are required to do for your doctor and, if you are lucky, for your beloved. Coxswain – an unfortunate case of impotence. Flautist is a word that I really struggle with. “He’s a flautist, he was over behind the church shed with a 13 year old!” In my research I came across one that absolutely must be included here: Canonical Erection. Strictly speaking this is a rite whereby a house of a religious order is sanctified. It should come to no surprise that this is an event specific to the Catholic Church and does not involve altar boys, although it sounds like it should. Other words that sound dirty but are not:
Manhole – I don’t even know what!
Seersucker – fellatio of the religiously significant.
Octopus – eight is better than one.
Cotton balls – what you get after having loads of sex.
Heimlich maneuver – some sort of erotic position known only to Germans.
Diction – speak into the mike Miss Moneypenny!
Bangkok – Thai sex act much favored by Russian oligarchs.
Words that don’t sound dirty but really are:
These words are the “British Conservative Politicians” of the English language. Clad in their bowler hats and carrying their brollies, we all know that when behind closed doors they “spank each other silly, what, what.” Cloaked in innocent nuance and bolstered by the hope that the speaker has no idea what he is saying, these words work their way into the lexicon and do their damage, distributing their filthy undertones everywhere they are uttered. So without further ado and without committing myself to an explanation, I submit the following:
Taint – to be clear, this is not a contraction of the words “it is not.”
Pearl Necklace – not always lovely around your partner’s neck.
Lucky Pierre – not a fortuitous Frenchman, believe me.
Cleveland Steamer – about as far as you can get from an old fashioned locomotive in the great city on Lake Erie.
Cincinnati Bowtie – again from Ohio, what is it with the Mid-westerners? Not innovative formal wear.
Teabagging – It is clear to me that there was a section of American society (led by Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin) who had no idea what this entailed. For three glorious weeks most of America collectively sniggered every time Glenn Beck announced that the tea baggers had a chip on their shoulders – apparently that wasn’t all they had on their shoulders.
Santorum – Not Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania. Just Google this one and you’ll see what I mean. Go ahead, do it!