Monday, September 13, 2010

Words I Do and Do Not Like

Inspired by my friend and fellow Elephant Journal contributor Joslyn Hamilton, here are some of my most, and least, favorite words. (You should read Joslyn’s blog; she’s younger and hipper and funnier than I am.)

Words I Like

Sanguine  Cheerfully optimistic.  I am not sanguine about the Democrats’ chances in the mid-term elections. Jane Austen uses this word a lot.

Cacao  [kuh-kah-oh]  It’s just fun to say.  Say it out loud:  “Seventy percent cacao.”  You’ll feel better.

Sanctimonious  This is what people usually mean when they say “pious.”  Not only is it more suited for the purpose–”pious” can simply mean “devout”–it also sounds a lot worse.

Imposed upon  This is another Jane Austen favorite, a happy alternative to “deceived” that has the advantage of laying the blame squarely on the deceiver. You have been most grievously imposed upon.

Niggardly  I am this word’s pity-friend. It doesn’t have anything to do with race, though the ill-educated and excessively PC persist in thinking it does. It means stingy.

Cataract  So much more satisfying than “waterfall.” Behold the awesome power of the cataract!

Piquant  I use this as a euphemism for bitchy or rude.  (Understatement makes you sound unflappable.) I pronounce it in English, with the accent on the first syllable. 

Candid  Less threatening than “frank” or “blunt.”  May I be candid with you?

Fraught  Past tense of the verb “freight”–same as “freighted,” but oh, so much more satisfying. The gesture seemed fraught with meaning.

Bounder  Meaning an ill-bred, unscrupulous man, this word is archaic and British enough that I have never yet had occasion to use it.  But I’m always on the lookout for an opportunity.  Josiah Bounderby, the “man perfectly devoid of sentiment” from Dickens’ Hard Times, is a good example.

Snarky  Sounding a lot like what it means, this word is like Doritos for your vocabulary–self-indulgent, but  tasty.

Schadenfreude Pleasure taken in the misfortunes of others. Every time President Bush screwed up, the liberal blogosphere lit up with Schadenfreude.

Obviate  Often used incorrectly to mean “make obvious,” this word actually means to prevent a problem or remove the need for something.  When you use correctly a word that other people use incorrectly, it makes you feel smart.

Egregious  One of my all-time favorite words.

Foofaraw  I love this word.  Whenever I use it, I feel like I have a big walrus mustache and a pocketwatch. Which I like, for some reason.

Imbroglio  A complicated, tangled, and usually embarrassing situation.  My life is too dull to warrant its use as often as I’d like.

Debacle It just sounds like one; even if you didn’t know what it meant, you would.

Quotidian  Meaning “everyday,” this word isn’t.

Monumental  Conveys hugeness as few other words do.  The Deepwater Horizon disaster was a monumental cock-up for BP.

Gravitas  Having the unusual property of lending the very quality it stands for to any sentence in which it is used, this word enables you to say “seriousness” without sounding like you’re in grade school.  

Words I Don’t Like

Policy  Inoffensive in itself, this word has been used so often to obviate the need for independent thought or initiative that I cannot bear to hear or use it.  I wish I could help you, but that’s just not our policy.

Flexible  There is not anything actually wrong with this word, either–it has simply been tainted by employers who use it to mean “roll over and play dead.”  When people want you to take on more work without an increase in pay, or work without a contract, they tell you to “be flexible.”  I now use “limber” or “supple” in its place.

Proactive  I don’t know why; I just hate it.

As of yet  You never, ever have to say this.  You can always just say “yet.”

At this time  Why not just say “now”? (See “As of yet” above.)

Presently (used to mean “at present”) People say this to mean “now”.  We are presently at work on the problem.  This is wrong, wrong, wrong.  It means “soon.”  Miss Dashwood will be down presently. What people usually mean when they say this is “at present”—but of course, why even say that?  (See “At this time” above.)

Itch (as a transitive verb)  If you have an itch, you scratch it; you do not “itch” it.  Hearing that makes my skin crawl. 

Epic (as an adjective) You know.

Fail (as a noun)  See “Epic” above.

Meme  I don’t really hate this word–it just reminds me of Beaker from the Muppet Show.


  1. I'm now desperately trying to remember if you've ever called me piquant.

  2. I agree with you on quite a few of these. I want to be there the day you comment snarkily on an egregious bounder inciting a foofaraw among the piquant masses that turns a well-planned event into a monumentous debacle. That cataract of gravitas would be anything but quotidian!

  3. I like fraught, debacle, and gravitas as well. I'm never able to separate sanguine from its bloody roots - when I read the word, my first thought is always humours and ruddy complexions, despite my brain stepping in and saying "ah, that means hopeful". A certain band director we both know is also a fan of egregious, but he uses it so liberally I feel certain he can't always use it correctly...

    I must admit that I am enough of a child of the internet era that I am guilty of using "fail" in the manner described above - its ignorant tenor just seems befitting of some occurrences.

  4. Wait a minute...what's wrong with Beaker from the Muppet Show?

  5. Nothing in the world is wrong with Beaker, Jen--it's just that the mental image of him consistently hijacks the intended meaning of the word. Follow the link and you'll see what I mean.

  6. I enjoyed the fact that your list of "don't likes" comprises mostly words that are 'buerospeak', or legal-contract/business jargon. I take it you have a general disfavor with language that is distinctional and dehumanizing. I found the most pleasure, however, in your dislike of 'epic' and 'fail'. Yet, this leads me into a stressful lament of the widespread normalization of internet/social networking lingo, which almost leaves me feeling quite alright about words like epic ('fail', however, is never OK).

  7. Scott, liked this post, as a foreigner (I am from Argentina) I am always looking for interesting new words, and there is no shortage here, I also looooved Foofaraw... wow! wish you had added the pronunciation and the meaning... wonder if I can use it in a yoga blog?

    Will add you to my blog roll to keep an eye on the new posts

  8. A delicious and entertaining post. I like your lists of chosen words.

  9. I hope you've seen the new Muppet Movie, Scott... not only will your girls love it, but there's a fabulous use of Beaker's "Mememe" contained within.


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