Six ugly words in English

An image of 'ugly toys' - what about ugly words?

On a recent absent-minded surf of the web, I came across Wordie. Wordie is the kind of site after my own heart. Its tagline is “Like Flickr but without the photos”. Wordie allows you to make lists of words and people can add, comment or vote on them. An hour or so wasted there yielded the following little gem of a list: ugly words that had been cited by users of the site. I list them here, along with definitions from the Macmillan Dictionary (I used their site to get these quickly, of COURSE I knew the meanings of all of them before!)

1┬áharangue – to speak to someone in a loud angry way for a long time, in orderto criticize them or to try to change their opinion It DOES look kind of ugly when I see it written down actually.

2. subpoena an official legal document that says you must come to a court oflaw to give information I bet this one is in there because 1) people hate getting these and 2) it looks like murder to spell, I doubt I could spell this one correctly.

3. quaff to drink something quickly or with a lot of enjoyment I don’t understand, I really LIKE this word! Maybe it’s the double ‘f’ at the end…

4. unctuous seeming to be interested, friendly, or full of praise, but in a way that is unpleasant because it is not sincere. Yes, this feels ugly both in meaning and in form. I think it’s the consonant cluster at the beginning.

5. visceral relating to basic emotions that you feel strongly and automatically I agree this is an ugly word to spell and feels ugly in my mouth when I say it.

6. onus – if the onus is on someone to do something, it is their responsibility or duty to do it. I can only think of one reason someone would nominate this as an ugly word, and that’s because it looks like the word ‘anus’. Otherwise, I don’t see anything ugly at all about it.

I don’t know if I would share these with students, but it could make an interesting question. I often ask students to list what they say are their favourite or most beautiful words but I hadn’t thought of asking the reverse. Of course all of this is subjective, but these things can help people remember words and are always good for people who enjoy language.

What do you think? What are your own “ugly” words in English and why? Post a comment.

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Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 10:53 am  Comments (35)  
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