Sat in my seminar on Monday, my tutor used the word ‘adjectival’. Not unusual that it might come up in a seminar based around close reading, but with that word came a small reflection for me, on words and how strange it is that someone might find a word genuinely quite repulsive.
As I am reminded in my language lectures, language itself is arbitrary. There is no reason why a tree should be called a tree and not an accident: nothing in the object points to it being called that, proven if only by the fact a hundred different languages will call it a hundred different things. But yet we still associate different words with different images. Take the ‘bouba/kiki effect’ for example. Most people will consider kiki to be the spikey object below, yet apart from the fact the letters themselves are spikey, there is no innate reason why this should be so.
So even linguistics say that we have assigned feelings towards words.
I have a fairly lengthy list of words I dislike. I’m not sure if that’s because as an English student, proportionally I spend a lot more time mulling words over than the average person, or if it’s just because I’m slightly neurotic, but just as some people hate it when you scratch your nails down a blackboard (which incidentally, I don’t actually mind), I feel myself cringing when someone says a word I find grotesque. Here’s a light-hearted look at a small portion of my list…
1. Moist. I think this one is fairly common because I’ve discussed how much this sets my teeth on edge with my friends, and they’ve agreed. My Mum now plays off this and grins when she feels she’s made a particularly ‘moist’ cake, by which point I’m put off even trying it.
2. Patties. Equally, my Mum finds this one hilarious when she makes burger for tea. Ew is all I have to say on the matter.
3. Phlegm. A bitch to spell, and one I feel like when I do finally spit the words out, I’ve produced far too much of the stuff in the process.
4. Fantastic. A strange word which doesn’t fit snugly with the rest, but one I find awful simply because I think there is no context in which you can sound sincere. Put it in an email, maybe, but unless you’re a year six teacher, you’re going to sound patronising. Scratch that, you’ll sound patronising either way.
5. Adjectival. And finally, the word that made me want to write this blog in the first place. A very useful word for being specific in your essays, but apologies, one that when I first encountered it during my French A Level, just made me think of sexually transmitted diseases. I can’t shake that – ‘Sorry sir, but you’ve got an adjectival infection. There’s nothing we can do’.
In my small cross-section, I can see a very bodily theme occurring. Strangely, though a lot of people claim that the expletive ‘c*nt’ is particularly offensive to them, it is not one that has ever bothered me, possibly because my odd midland accent sometimes squashes ‘couldn’t’ in phrases such as ‘I couldn’t do it’ down to much the same.
Sometime in the not too distant future, I’ll be looking at a pick of my favourites. Because let’s face it, I could talk about words all day…