Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Winceable Words

cross-posted from the Poetics List sponsored by: The Electronic Poetry Center & Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. I strongly recommend subscribing for resources, announcements and above all, intelligent discussion... and, while I'm at it, The Guardian Book Blog this draws from (thus explaining why it references UK poets).

Which words make you wince? Poets have been asked for their most hated words. What are yours?

'What word do you hate and why?' is the intriguing question put to a selection of poets by the Ledbury festival. Philip Wells's reply is the winner for me - 'pulchritude' is certainly up there on my blacklist. He even explains his animosity in suitably poetic terms:

"it violates all the magical impulses of balanced onomatopoeic language - it of course means "beautiful", but its meaning is nothing of the sort, being stuffed to the brim with a brutally latinate cudgel of barbaric consonants. If consonants represent riverbanks and vowels the river's flow, this is the word equivalent of the bottomless abyss of dry bones, where demons gather to spit acid."

For Geraldine Monk, "it's got to be 'redacted' which makes me feel totally sick. It's a brutish sounding word. It doesn't flow, it prods at you in a nasty manner."

Both these poets understand that the key to words that make you feel nauseous is not the meaning - it's easy, after all, to hate the word 'torture' – but something else entirely. Something idiosyncratic, something about the way the word feels in your mouth as you say it. The horrors of 'membrane', for instance. Or the eccentricity of 'gusset'.

Having said that, I'm still trying to get my head around Paul Batchelor's explanation that "I've always hated the word 'APPAL' (or 'appalled' or 'appalling') because I dislike hearing the sound of my name inside other words." I can't work out if there's a case of extreme ego or extreme self-hatred going on there.

And I can't help feeling that Ros Barber misses the point with her rather po-faced reply. "Words are to be loved. Their associations may be unpleasant but words themselves are full of poetry (and history, and geography)," she says. "Delicious vowel sounds and tongue-tickling consonants. There isn't a word in the English language that doesn't excite me if I think about it long enough."

Sorry, Ros, I can't agree. I'm with Rhian Edwards on 'chillax' - "the most unnecessary and obnoxious linguistic blend to have ever been coined". Except possibly for 'no-brainer'...

Whether it's 'hubby' or 'sassy' or 'webinar' – what are the words that make you wince? (many folks are posting their most hated words in the comments to the Guardian article this excerpts -

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