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AWADmail Issue 775A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language
Sponsor’s Message: Do you love your mother? Does your mother love words? Then get her a gift she’ll love. We’ll help: we’d like to invite this week’s Email of the Week winner, Pam Kaatz (see below), as well as all AWADers to visit our old’s cool “Make Mom Smile” collection of literate and lovely gifts and gear. SHOP MOM WOW.
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Most readers enjoyed the lighthearted characterization of last week’s words as ugly, but some took it personally. A couple of readers unsubscribed and one sent this note:
You are wrong again. It is a Greek word not a Latin one. You pronounce it wrong and then accuse it of being ugly. Learn to respect other people’s words first before you judge. English language borrowed a Greek word to express something for which it had no word of its own, then changed the meaning slightly and completely mangled the pronunciation. After that, we have ignorants like you to judge something to which you have no right. Judge your own words and your own civilisation. If you have one.
-Irini, Athens, Greece (eipnvn.a gmail.com)
We had said it came to us from Latin plethora, from Greek plethore, because that’s the path it took. If you’re looking for alternative facts, there must be some group out there to Make Greece Great Again. At any rate, we won’t judge you to be a representative of your civilization. (Ironically, the name Irini means “peace”, aka Irene and the source of the word irenic.)
That aside, we received lots of thoughtful comments. Many readers sent a spirited defense of this week’s words. They also shared their own suggestions of words they consider ugly (utilize, phlegm, crepuscular, puce, and Trump were among the most common suggestions). Read on for a small sampling of the comments:
I think every writer should have their plethora removed.
-Carl (signup krall.org)
I’ve always liked the word “plethora”. I wanted to use it in my graduate
thesis on organic chemistry to describe the huge number of experiments I
had done, but my major professor didn’t approve.
“Plethora” is a word used most often by high school AP students and recent
grads now in college freshman writing classes who think its use will impress
their instructors. Take it from me. I could not agree more; don’t use it!
What have you got against the word “plethora”? It’s a lovely, soft,
feathery word. Think of a thousand pounds of feathers plumping themselves
I was SO PLEASED to see that you’d selected “plethora” as an ugly word --
I hate it! It seems to be one of those words that people in the media
use all the time because they think it makes them sound more educated,
but it reminds me of the feeling of having some sort of fluff stuck to my
tongue. I’m surprised at the number of people who like it on the Facebook comments page
resisting the pressure from all around to join Facebook.) Another word,
recently coined, that’s on my hate list is “trifecta”.
I never thought of plethora as being ugly. I have thought of it, however,
as a wonderful woman’s name. “With a gentle sigh, Plethora cast aside her
annotated Shakespeare, her willowy figure and auburn hair being all the
poetry that a world really needed.”
Goodness, how different people are in their perception of beauty! I find
the words “myriad” and “plethora” lovely. However .... “Gubernatorial”,
now there’s an ugly word, lumbering and pretentious. And “gibbous” is
truly nasty, conjuring something slimy and lumpy, not at all fit to be
applied to the pallid beauty of the moon.
Unless there’s a new definition of ugly, I respectfully disagree with the
label. I love these words. I am reminded of my youth when dad would open
his wallet for mom offering cash for comestibles. If there was a more
colorful word for something you can bet my dad was armed with it.
Your theme put a smile on my face. Glad you added that beauty is in the eye
of the beholder. I was teaching first grade back in the ’60s. At the end
of the day, when little ones were tired, I did a fun activity. I would
introduce a new word, put up a picture I thought illustrated the word, and
have the children guess its meaning. The word was grotesque. The picture was
of a lantern fish. The children guessed ugly, scary, frightening, etc. I
noticed Cynthia looked puzzled. She was one of the brightest students and
offered no response. I asked her what was wrong. Her answer, “Everyone is
saying these mean things about him and I think he’s beautiful.” I am now
84 and as you can see I never forgot that.
An ugly word: Famine. I always imagine a mouth stretched wide open as it
pronounces the first syllable and as it searches in vain for sustenance.
The opposite, too, of plethora coincidentally.
I think plethora is fine when it is used wryly, with a half-smile or a
raised eyebrow. Is there any word uglier than “hate”? Even when describing
Earl Grey tea, or hazelnuts, which I really don’t like, the word “hate”
evokes emotions I’d rather not have near me. Applied to people it is bad,
dangerous, without merit.
To me, plethora is a warm and comfortable word. You want ugly words? Here are
some: Hate, Racism, Intolerance, Belittle, and others of that ilk. Such “ugly”
words should be banned from our language. A pipe dream, I know.
I’ve used (and, despite your week’s theme, have loved) the word “myriad”
in my everyday speech all my life. If there is any problem with the word,
it is knowing when (or even if) to use the plural. Plus, each time I think of
it, for some reason I find my mind sliding into rumination on “decimating a
myriad warriors” -- literally, that is -- and in my recurrent conjured image,
the soldiers are always Greeks -- armored, though, probably more in the
fashion of a Roman Legionnaire -- but then, this image first popped into
my head when I was not yet 10, so I suppose I can be forgiven.
I understand it’s a matter of perception. But for me, the word “fructify”
in fact gushes in juices into my mouth! The syllable “fru” gives a feeling
as if I’m biting off a piece of succulent apple.
“Trump”. I’d give up all its other uses if no one ever uttered the name
Trump ever again!
“Bigly” (though not a “real” word) is something I DEFINITELY do not want
to see in print or hear in speech ever again.
My son commented that his least favourite word was “moist” and said he
would be happy if the word could be removed from the dictionary! I
felt no adverse feeling toward it at all and was puzzled by such a
reaction, yet a quick Google found many others also dislike it.
I hate the word “kiddo”. I had a terrible principal who used the word
kiddo instead of children/child/student. Totally creeps me out.
The word “behoove” became loathsome to me in college in the early ’60s when
an irritating dean used it to control women’s behavior.
This week’s theme brought to mind my daughter’s reaction to the word
“phlegm” when she was a child. It just absolutely disgusted her and we
tried to avoid using it in order to make her happy!
For me, the word is “provider” instead of “clinician” or “physician,
nurse, etc.” The term provider takes away our profession, the root of
which is profess, and that IS what we do: we VOW to take care of someone
else. “Provider” is a word deliberately used to degrade an entire class of
people. (I do tend to rant about this -- and I’m a former medical journal
editor, never recovered, of course, so I can rant to my heart’s content.)
One ugly word that appears more than once in Lawrence Durrell’s “Alexandria
Quartet” is phthisis. I suspect
the disease was equally ugly.
It’s not a word but I find myself so annoyed by people (in some areas of
Australia) who pronounce the letter H as “haitch”. Who ever gave them that
idea? And who is going to let them know how it should be said? It really
I’d like to stand up for “comestible” as an excellent member of the word
community. I think it has a nice crunch which mimics its meaning and is
enjoyably antiquated. My least favourite word is “scurvy”. I remember going
to a pirate museum when I was small and seeing the exhibit on scurvy;
I was so upset by the word that whenever I heard, read, or thought it,
I had to say “muffin” as a sort of antidote.
“Actually”. Even in my mother tongue, Afrikaans, speakers and writers are
actually using it until it actually drives me nuts. I actually once counted
and an actually foremost interviewee actually used the word actually 10
times in an interview that actually only lasted 30 seconds.
A really ugly word that is in common use makes me wince each time I hear
it, or see it in print. That word is GOTTEN! It is ugly and clumsy, but,
depending on context, can be replaced by much prettier words such as Got,
Acquired, Obtained, Have or Had etc.
A word I particularly dislike is “gobsmack” -- often used in speech in the
form “gobsmacked”. I am often driven -- nay, tempted -- to give persons using
this word a good hit up in the mouth.
The word I can’t stand to hear is “got”. Such a lazy word, and the sound
of it just grates on me. People use it in a variety of circumstances,
but there are always much more descriptive and better-sounding words that
could be used. Please don’t ever try to tell me what you got at the store,
or got in your exam. Ugh!
It mostly depends on the way one pronounces such words, and the emotional
atmosphere in which they are used, whether they are beautiful or ugly. Any
language will sound ugly if it is militarily barked or used by persons
bearing hate. We grew up with caricaturized German in recordings and war
movies and it sounds horrible to American ears; but German spoken elegantly
and lovingly is a very beautiful and evocative language.
Cultural conditioning plays a large role in how we perceive language and
words. I do not care for languages with deeply guttural sounds, but I’m
sure that, if I were to live in one of them for a while, I would come to
love it, as I have with so many others. Many words are not intended to
sound beautiful, but they are amusing, like “skink”.
I’m with Whoopi on this -- the ugliest word is “stupid”.
I would nominate “genre”. To me it indicates pretentiousness on the part of
the speaker. A runner up would be “values”, or “family values”, especially
when used by politicians. (Actual translation: “*my* values”).
You asked for our own ideas of ugly words. Mine mostly revolve around the
letters U and Q. I don’t know why. I like squirrels, for example. Here is
my list of ugly words: kumquat, absquatulate, scurrilous, squander, mogul.
Perhaps I am the exception, but I cannot find ugliness in any of this
week’s suggested words. Indeed, I cannot find an intrinsic ugliness in any
combination of the sounds/symbols of words in any language, even those
describing bodily functions or atrocities. Where I do find an acquired
ugliness is in those words that are used pejoratively to demean or denigrate
an individual or group. There are, however, word combinations -- imaginative
and even poetical -- which for me possess an intrinsic loveliness. And
the same is generally true of the word in most languages for “butterfly”:
thus mariposa, papillon, Schmetterling, farfalle, babochka, kupu-kupu,
pinpinik, birabiro, pattampucci, to name but a few. Interesting how often
these names are onomatopoetically duplicative!
If you follow up with beautiful words next week, I remember J.R.R. Tolkien’s
selection of the
most beautiful word in the English language: cellar door.
From: Pam Kaatz (kaatz airmail.net)
To me this word had been lost to modern English, until the movie The Three Amigos (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short). Now, I know that the intellectual readers of Wordsmith will disagree. When the bandido leader asked his helper how many piñatas were prepared for his birthday party, he phrased his question in a way that became a classic line among those of us who truly understood the humor of the film. “Would you say that we have a plethora of piñatas?” We still say “plethora of ---” then refer to the movie in my family and group of friends. Try it sometime to see if anyone else knows what you are talking about. If you haven’t seen The Three Amigos, give it a try. Then you will understand why my friends laugh when I graciously offer them lip balm or say “look up here” like a bird screaming, or tell them “the German says wait here.” This word today has made me want to see The Three Amigos again, even though I have already seen it a plethora of times. (video, 1 min.)
Pam Kaatz, Denton, Texas
From: Robin Carpenter (analytix valley.net)
When I was in college, decades ago, a friend came up with the term “pleth-load” as an evocative euphemism for “sh*t-load”, also meaning abundance or excess.
Robin Carpenter, Lebanon, New Hampshire
From: Ira Hammerman (sabaira4 gmail.com)
I learned the word “comestible” in the ’60s from the jingle in the Nucoa margarine ad: “It’s the new ubiquitous comestible. It’ so digestible ...” I probably learned “ubiquitous” from the same jingle.
Ira Hammerman, Rehovot, Israel
From: Harlan Feinstein (harlan feinsteins.net)
“Comestible” features in an excerpt from the Monty Python “cheese shop” sketch.
O: Ah, hungry!
That’d have been a nice theme for a week: MP’s cheese shop sketch. Could have done: curtailed, sallied, infiltrated, purveyance, and comestibles. :-)
Harlan Feinstein, SeaTac, Washington
From: Julian Thomas (jt jt-mj.net)
Those of us who were around computers in the 1950s will remember “A Myriabit Magnetic-Core Matrix Memory” presented by Jan Rajchman in 1953. In those days 10,000 BITS (a little more than 1000 of today’s BYTES) was enormous!
Julian Thomas, Rochester, New York
From: Robert S O Harding (rharding upenn.edu)
While walking by an arctic bog in Maine with her uncle, a Downeast botanist, my wife asked him whether a black crowberry growing near the trail was edible. “Diana,” he told her, “it’s edible, but not comestible,” a distinction we’ve maintained in our family ever since.
Robert S O Harding, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
We may forget that several classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters, including Daffy, Elmer, and Sylvester, often struggled with everyday speech, not to mention so-called “ugly”, multisyllabic words. Here, Daffy Duck splutters out two “ugly” tongue-twisters, both meaning “an abundance”, “plethora” and “superfluity”, as an irate Elmer Fudd continues to butcher his “R”s and “L”s in his retort, trying to avoid Daffy’s projectile spittle.
Some Like it Hot... their “combustible” comestibles, that is. Here, in the shadow of a large bottle of Mexicano hot sauce, an animated “hot tamale” embraces a pair of mustachioed, piquant peppers, as two fetching hot-wings look on, taking it all in.
Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
The text in each box is an anagram of the text in other boxes.
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Said the philanderer to the señora,
There’s a plethora of words I abhor:
Because of the leader we chose
The day that we all drive a Tesla
My cooking is quite detestable.
If you visit the Rockies be skeptical
Machiavelli, who wrote The Prince,
With Odysseus off at The Iliad,
Brave Achilles was revered in old Greece,
His judgments he makes a priori;
The soufflé, on its rise to solidify,
When Garden of Eden was made,
Says Martian, “Is it rude if I
In Bible we’re taught to comply,
“This crowd will support me and unify,”
From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
“Let’s read lots of poems by Sylvia Plathora ‘nother woman.”
The kid tried setting fire to his spinach; it wasn’t comestible.
Actually, Myriad an entire flock of lambs.
“I prefer Milky Way™; 3 Musketeers™ is too nugatory.”
“I’m pregnant with triplets but I’m fructify know how it happened.”
Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come. -Rabindranath Tagore, poet, philosopher, author, songwriter, painter, educator, composer, Nobel laureate (1861-1941)