Have you ever had the experience of talking to someone and seeing them smile or (more likely) cringe because of a certain word you’ve said? Something I’ve always been interested in exploring is whether or not there are certain words that a significant number of people like or dislike. Judging from previous conversations I’ve had with friends, there are definitely a few English words that really bother a lot of people to the point that they have physical reactions to them.
Although other people have gathered data on this topic before, I decided that I wanted to collect my own data from the people in my life. I started by surveying friends, family, classmates, teachers, and co-workers about their favorite and least favorite words in the English language. I used facebook, email and face-to-face conversations to acquire my data. I asked participants for English words, any part of speech except proper nouns. I allowed people to give multiple responses. The survey itself was composed of four questions, two of which were mandatory (1 & 3):
1. What is your favorite English word?
2. Why is this your favorite word?
3. What is your least favorite English word?
4. Why is this your least favorite word?
I received over 75 responses through facebook and email and about 25 more in person. There were 123 unique responses to the favorite word question and 89 unique responses to the least favorite word question. Here is the final list of words:
Favorite: waterfall, swirl, childlike, discombobulated, dystopia, ubiquitous, tangy, sangfroid, et cetera, ampersand, chic, blot, onomatopoeia, metro, biddy, energy, bedazzled, flutter, xylophone, obviously, super, superfluous, nomenclature, frabjous, jabberwocky, turtle, epiphany, anemone, surreptitious, crunchy, quixotic, languish, cozy, hodgepodge, victory, cognizant, home, boysenberry, decadent, prelapsarian, passion, jeezycat, cunt, babe, lovely, waffle, debauchery, nefarious, frolic, effervescent, joy, hope, bibulous, dig, ethereal, smorgasbord, quintessential, awesome, smile, content, hug, faith, shenanigans, museum, silly, scrumptious, dissolution, hellacious, precocious, amicably, chartreuse, love, balderdash, sunny, nougat, lunch, plethora, dubious, moist, autodidact, lava, intuition, dank, schism, tangled, hedonist, noodle, bed, didgeridoo, cerulean, negligible, facetious, writhe, serenity, mother, kerfuffle, decadent, sapphire, naive, oblivion, procrastinate, conundrum, syzygy, yes, curmudgeon, contingency, territory, harsh, beef, block, free, spooky, buckshot, fellatio, asinine, nonchalant, vicious, fierce, quaffable, jasmine, indubitably
Least Favorite: grizzle, puke, faggot, suck, moist, panties, conservative, bimonthly, chunky, crusty, wet, urgent, fecund, chick, assignment, exam, groin, curb, curd, bourgeoise, damp, pubescent, successful, amazing, tchotchke, bunion, crotch/crotchety, crud, pimple, goose, poop, pussy, ambulance, used, comb, receipt, death, plump, manilla, wisps, anus, disappointment, nipples, floppy, smote, the, incarnated, tend, hate, sorry, duty, cunt, frown, utilize, plug, pug, labia, toodles, work, squeegee, butt, gummy, gluey, like, because, smelly, cut, uvula, can’t, wormy, economic, development, bunt, wife, no, unacknowledged, sardonic, inspiration, necessary, chicken, rural, nigger, extraordinary, curdled, scrotum, spunk, tolerant, lecherous, cusp
I received some very interesting and entertaining responses to the survey, especially to questions 2 & 4. Here are some examples:
‘It’s fun to work into a sentence. It doesn’t sound like what it means.’
about buckshot: ‘It sounds so nice when you say it. It has the “uck” of Fuck, and that nice “BUH”. Then the shot just kind of rolls off the beginning of the word.’
‘It evokes all the same feelings that the thought of the act provokes in me.’
about procrastinate: ‘because it cannot be translated in french (my second language)’
about nomenclature: ‘If there were a gnomish race that co-existed with us, I’d imagine that this is what they’d call their language. It also brings to mind really tiny scientists, the thought of which tickles me.’
about quixotic: ‘best word to use in hangman’
‘the texture of the word conveys the process described by the word; its syntax alone carries semantic information.’
‘I know its really cheesy but i just love home and the word brings to mind warmth, happiness, freedom, friends etc etc all in just four letters.’
about moist: ‘Because every girl hates this word. And if she tells you she doesn’t, she’s lying.’
‘I don’t like the way it sounds. It is used to describe someone positively, but it sounds so awful so it is too much of a contradiction for me to handle.’
‘Extra + ordinary doesn’t make “remarkable.” shouldn’t it mean more like terribly ordinary/boring?’
‘Yuck, just the whole combination of letters together makes me cringe. The meaning, as in something smells terrible, also makes me feel like gagging.’
‘Awkward, prickly, obnoxious, feels unpleasant as you say it.’
I was interested to see if the same words would come up over and over again in the surveys and if people offer similar reasons for their likes/dislikes. I found that the following words are liked by more than one participant: ubiquitous, metro, onomatopoeia, effervescent, nomenclature, ethereal.
Likewise, the following words are disliked by more than one participant: hate, crusty, panties, pimple, pussy, fecund.
There is one word that I have as of yet neglected to mention. This word is…moist. Apparently one of the most hated words in the English language, moist made it onto 20 participants’ lists of words they dislike, including my own.
I also guessed that some words would appear on both lists, being liked by some and disliked by others. I found that both ‘cunt’ and ‘moist’ were liked by one person and disliked by another (or many others). It surprised me that someone liked the word moist considering how many people seem to be vehemently opposed to it.
After collecting and analyzing my data, I started thinking about a way to visually represent my findings. I decided to create a small book object that would contain many if not all of the words. I wanted it to be about the size of a notecard but with a significant thickness so it could be comfortably held in one’s hands. Because I did not get as many unique responses for least favorite word as I did for favorite, the book was limited in length by the number of favorite words collected. The final book is 3.75″ x 6.5″ with a thickness of approximately o.5 inches. It is 90 pages long and spiral bound along the longest edge. It reads both forward and backward and has no true starting or ending point. It does not contain a cover or a title page. Information about the making of the book is included on the colophon. Favorite words are set as orange on a white background in 60 pt Archer Semibold, which is one of my favorite typefaces.
Least favorite words are set as white on an orange background in 60 pt Gill Sans, my least favorite typeface.
Here are some images of the final product:
This book was printed on an Epson Stylus Photo 1400 injet and bound with white wire on December 13, 2010. It is part of an edition of three.
A few things I looked at for inspiration for this project:
Komar & Melamid, Most Wanted Painting and others http://awp.diaart.org/km/