Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"I do not think it means... what you think it means...": Words on the Naughty List and Why I Can't Give Them Up

"You sure use that word a lot." It's one of my most dreaded phrases.

Not to be confused with my most dreaded phase.

No; not me.

I get attached to words. Really attached. From time to time, a word comes along that so perfectly syncs/ melds/ harmonizes with the wavelengths of my brain, its use practically becomes a mannerism. No other word, but that particular word, can elucidate the inner workings of a concept I'm discussing or conveying. I'm just kidding; I don't use the word "elucidate."

Someone recently put one of these words on a verbal naughty list and said I wasn't allowed to use it anymore. I felt two things:
  • embarrassment at getting called out for overusing a word
  • heartbreak and intense loss at the idea of surrendering the word

It gets worse...

I told someone about the word-shunning and she mentioned another word that is creeping into naughty-list territory. (This is a perfectly good time to tell you how much I hate when people use the word naughty.)

She and I spent some time synonym-searching, but nothing could console me.

Here are the three words on my list. #1 and #2 were brought to my attention by others and I've added #3 as a demonstration of my self-awareness.

#1) Ambiguous—open to having several possible meanings or interpretations; difficult to distinguish or classify; lacking clearness or definiteness; obscure.

More than this, ambiguous can suggest contradictory interpretations! And more than that, the implication is that this confusion is unintentional! You see, this is an incredibly rich word and it simply doesn't have a substitute. Equivocal doesn't work, cryptic is too full of connotation, and enigmatic is too mysterious. It is matchless. It shall remain.

#2) Pragmatic—pertaining to a practical view or practical consideration; advocating behavior that is dictated more by practical (judicious, sensible) consequences than by theory or dogma.

I've been dabbling in substituting practical for pragmatic, but here's the deal, people: It's the same number of syllables! And to me it implies the act of putting practicality into practice, rendering it a stronger word. And that is why it too shall remain. 

#3) Esoteric—(from the Greek esoterikos: "belonging to an inner circle.") little known; private; secret; confidential; intended to be revealed only to the initiates of a group or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest; belonging to the select few.

I know it's bad; I know I deserve to be punched in the face for using this word sometimes as many as six or seven times a week. But I need it. And the real issue is that esoteric's synonyms are much, much worse:
  • abstruse—are you kidding me! What is this, one of Hobo Siren's Weekly Hybrid Neologisms? You cannot just combine two words—abstract and obtuse—that pretty much mean the same thing and form a word that pretty much means the same thing. There is a name for it; it's called a "fake word." (Also, abstract is basically on the naughty list for me, sigh.) 
  • recondite—don't even get me started.
All of this saddens me. I don't want to wear out a prized word any more than I want to wear out a new favorite song by compulsively listening to it on repeat. The solution is out there. Won't you help me find it, readers? Where is the compromise? And what words have been placed on your naughty list?


  1. You can not put esoteric on the naughty list. There is something about that word that is The way it sounds. What it means. It's sort of perfect.

    Also-the word naughty makes me think of Chris Farley in Tommy Boy talking to his dinner roll.

  2. Don't know about the others, but n*****y has got to go. If you include what Megs just said, it was used seven (eight if you count me!) times in this post. You're torturing yourself! arrrgh!! Stop!

    I've had to stop using my recent favorite word ("brio") because John started using it too, and that was not ok. Certain words are mine alone!

  3. hahahaa, i usually overuse phrases, not words.
    but i say fantastic so much that my boss has banned the word when i'm at work.

  4. I hate any verb pertaining to eating, except eating: Munch, scarf (but only in the eating sense),chow down, nibble, wolf (again, only in the eating sense), chew, masticate, gobble, nosh, and lunch when used as a verb. These words make me visibly cringe.

  5. Also, this morning I didn't use the word "compunction" because I knew Mitch would have made fun of me for it.


Your comments are why I get out of bed in the morning. Just kidding. But I do like them.