I've been writing a poem about a woman who hates a particular word, born of thinking about why people dislike certain words. Leaving language people-creative writers out, when people dislike words it's usually because of baggage - what the words mean or suggest, or sometimes how they look. It’s rare that people hate words simply for how they ride the air - the sound of them.
High on the list are words people hate that are parts of the body, like gland or urethra or cochlea. Some hate buttocks, or they hate lobe or nostril. I should note there are body words people love, too. But I’ll save those for another page.
Next come words that express bodily functions, like secrete, ooze and coagulate. People have physical reactions to those words. Their faces freeze up, or they take a long blink.
Many dislike what oozes from the body, like snot, vomit and fluid. I’m not trying to be gross, but words like these can have more of an effect than curses, also despised by many. Disembodied, the word pus, for example, is a perfectly nice word, and pustule, is even nicer with its deep /tshul/, reminiscent of jewel.
Some people also dislike words that are suggestive of the body if not specific to it, like pungent and moist. People hate moist, but have no reaction to mist, or hoist or joist.
People are also influenced by the look of a word, which means you’ll find people who hate the word kumquat. The –ph- combination strikes some as wimpy or fake, causing them to dislike the name Phil, but not think twice about fill. I include myself among those discomfitted by words deliberately misspelled, like kewt and kwik chek.
The real baggage words that people hate, and are hardly worth mentioning since they're usually political or highly idiosyncratic, are slogan type words that represent something, like green. Too bad for green with its lovely long /i/ and its traditional image of spring. Lorca will be along to haunt them! I knew a guy who hated the suffix –ish, and recall how he fussed when someone said they’d meet him around eightish. Other people hate diminutives. Americans dislike Britishisms and vice-versa. People also hate high-sounding words like hence or eschew, and foreign words like verboten, which are often considered snobbish, no matter how inherently beautiful.
What I find most interesting is disliking a word purely based on sound, forgetting how it looks, what it means or could mean. I dislike the harsh sound of drake, for example. To bring the baggage in, I guess it insinuates the rake and crane of tools and machinery. I believe drake is also a kind of duck, but I like ducks and duck, a word which begins and ends so tidily.
Of course you can also love a word simply based on sound. When I was around eightish, I remember my mother telling me how she liked sewer, and I went off saying it over and over, divorcing it from everything, fascinated by the idea of liking pure sound.
Last year I asked people for three of their favorite words. The answers were surprising and not surprising, but always interesting. Here are some of those:
coffee, succulent, toast, and marmalade, gravity, butterscotch, skin. Gestalt. rue, yes, great, thanks. slug, surf, engine, rauschenberg, phenomenon, onomatopoeia, facetious, tintinabulation, sunshine, smells, jiminy, honky-tonk, mosey, lunatic, madrugada, flabbergasted, strawberry, roustabout, snug, Caligula, bucket, Rorschach, osé, fathom, fossilized; marriage, dystopia, copralite, hawk, serendipitous, hogmanay, luscious, flibbertygibbet, bitch, squeek, ramp, skunk, nebula, light, travelling, chagrin, music, silk, friends, cerebral, myopic, discombobulate, erratic, lolling, certainly, ofcourse, Susquehanna, slip, strozzapreti, chartreuse, Volatile, Ravine, and Lucid, shoes, kids, apprehension. water, anthropomorphize, hi, nevertheless, circumspect, and wherwithal, ausgezeichnet, grin, tentative, elegance