Bad Words

27 February 2001

George Carlin has a fairly famous routine about the seven words you can't say on television. In it, he says that he thinks there are no bad words.

Well, I think he's wrong. And I'm going to share with you some of my bad words here. Some of them are pretty bad. You'd better prepare yourself. I'm going to say the first one first, just to get it out of the way.


I'm still shuddering out here. (See what a Midwesterner I am? I think of my current location as "out here," no matter what.) Hottie is just the nastiest word. I think it is currently my least favorite word. I'm not sure why -- someone can be hot and cute, and I'm fine with cutie, I guess. It applies well to some people. But hottie puts my teeth on edge. If I was trying to make myself look deep, I would say that its focus on physical sexuality over anything else ("cute" can be a personality trait, or so I'm told). But I'm not that deep. Describing someone as hot has the same focus, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest. I think it's that hottie is combination sexual and cutesy. It sounds so very much like a Britney Spears thing to me. And it sounds instantly dated. I can imagine my kids rolling their eyes at somebody else's mom for asking if so-and-so is a hottie. But it will be somebody else's mom, by God; it will not be me. Because hottie is a bad word.

Nihility. I ran across this word when I was editing C.J.'s paper about nihilism in Japan. He asked if I had any rewrite suggestions. I suggested that he rewrite the whole thing to avoid the use of the word nihility. It's just such an ugly word. Bleah. Nihility. I mean, you can see why the people who have it, have it. It's kind of circular at that point. The more nihility you observe or feel, the worse it affects you, I'd imagine, just by being able to label it that way.

Whimsicalness. I got this one from one of Michelle's papers. Don't ask me why my friends all write papers with such bad words in them. Ceej at least has the excuse of being a computer scientist, whereas La Michelle is an English grad student and ought to know better. Whimsicalness. If ever there was a concept that oughtn't to go clunk, this was it. But no. (Timprov insists that this is not a bad word because it's not a word at all. He says it ought to be whimsicality. Which is not much better, although the "cality" dances a little better than the "calness.")

Crotch. I think this is the only one on my list that's particularly sexual. It just sounds like a problem. No body part or region should sound inherently problematic. It's too close to itch and scratch, I think (which are fine for the concepts they express), and reflects kind of negatively on sexuality. Like we needed more stuff in our language and culture to do that. Also, crotchety and crotch don't seem to go well together, but they sound like they ought to. Why is that? Groin is also bad. Sounds like an exclamation of pain. Or else a Tolkien dwarf. Either way.

Fugue. I love fugues. They can be gorgeous and wonderful and amazingly hard to play. But it sounds like it's either a euphemism or a sixties dance, or maybe a bad mood. "He was in such a fugue, he kicked the cat."

Cryogenic. I don't feel the need to justify this one. Airline stereophonic ratastat watermelon, right Mom? (I am so disturbed that this word processor's spellcheck function knows "stereophonic.")

Poetess. Authoress. Both of these stink. Poetess and authoress both smack of exceptions to me. They're like being good "for your age." And it was written by a girl! How amazing.

Then, like George Carlin's broadcast censors, I have words that are no good in context. The one I'm thinking of right now is "so now." As in "Oh, that shirt is so 1996, but you should keep the shoes. The shoes are so now." I have used the "so [year]" construction, but only when I'm joking or mocking myself. I actually heard "so now" on the radio today, in a commercial. I changed the station.

Only to hear "all natural!" Just once -- only once, mind you, I want to hear something advertised as partially natural. Partially new. Partially improved. It's okay if it's better in some ways, as long as it's better!

Ooh, organic falls into this category, too. Organic is a perfectly reasonable way of describing certain things. Chemistry, for example, can be organic. Farming, I suppose, can be, too. But not tomatoes. Tomatoes are always organic. If they were inorganic, we couldn't eat them.

There are, of course, corresponding good words. But I don't really want to write about them tonight.


Tim claims that the appropriate word is not "whimsicalness" nor yet "whimsicality," but rather, and simply, whimsy. I don't really buy it. I know that whimsy is a good word and means something similar, but I believe La Michelle was trying to mean something else in her paper, and I certainly was. Sometimes we just don't have enough words. But whimsy, you're right, Tim, is quite a decent word all by itself.

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