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12 Horrible Gobbledygook Words We Reluctantly Accepted

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Just as there is nothing certain in this world but death and taxes, there is nothing certain in language but that it will change, and that people will react badly. One of the changes people find most offensive is the spread of professional jargon that has been coined to replace simpler, clearer words we already have. Anyone up for some collaborative incentivizing going forward? No? Well, maybe one day your great-grandchildren will be. Here are 12 words that people once thought were horrible gobbledygook that nobody flinches at anymore.

1. Contact

While many people still don't like impact as a verb, contact has settled into verbdom quite comfortably. But it had a hard time in the beginning. In 1937, it was number four on a widely published list of the 10 most "overworked" words, with members of the advertising industry named as the worst offenders. In 1931, an official at Western Union wanted to institute a company-wide ban on the usage. He said the verb shouldn't be allowed "to soil any good Western Union paper." He went so far as to say the "loathsome" person who invented this "hideous vulgarism" should have been "destroyed in early childhood," arguing that "so long as we can meet, get in touch with, make the acquaintance of, be introduced to, call on, interview or talk to people, there can be no apology for contact."

2. Interview

While interview may have been a proper alternative to contact in 1931, people weren't always friendly to it, at least in the sense where it means the asking of questions by members of the press. An 1882 book on rhetoric describes how this verb was "first accepted in jest, then violently denounced, and finally, by a strange fate, it appears to be accepted with mournful resignation." In 1890, a New York Times article took to task the "newspaper fiends who have forced us to admit to the rights of citizenship the verb 'to interview.'"

3. Optimism/Pessimism

These came into fashion in the 1880s, and by 1892, one magazine columnist complained about "the way in which the word Pessimism gets flung about of late … one encounters it at every turn … and it is made to serve as the label of almost every expression of discontent with the existing order of things." In 1904, another exasperated magazine writer asked, "Who will contribute the first dollar to a fund to furnish definitions of the words optimism and pessimism to writers who use the words as synonyms of cheerfulness and despondency?"

4. Mortician

This word was first printed in the February 1895 issue of Embalmers Monthly, where it was proposed as a replacement for "undertaker" or "funeral director." People outside the industry didn't much care for it, complaining that it "grates the ear." For decades afterward it was called "ugly," "affected," an "uncouth stranger," and an "atrocity" of a euphemism. The literary critic Harry Levin called it a "pseudo-Latinism of dubious currency."

5. Purist

In 1883, a journalist named Godfrey Turner went on an awesome rampage against purist, writing, "What a word! We have here positively the only instance of an attempt to make a noun, by this clumsy inflection, direct out of a raw adjective." He wasn't done with it yet though, going on to write in another publication, "whoever first committed to the legibility of black and white that vicious noun-substantive has, it may be hoped, lived to repent a deed that offends forever against verbal purity … among all blundering conceits of modern phraseology, [it] stands distinguished from its misshapen fellows by an unapproachable singularity of malformation."

6. Reliable

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An 1860 review of a new dictionary of English lamented that author "gives a place to the superfluous word reliable, which has well nigh superseded the old fashioned idiomatic term trustworthy." The reviewer is pleased, however, that the dictionary explains why "this anomalous and deformed word" makes no sense: To get the intended meaning, the word should be "reliuponable," which would be "ludicrous."

7. Antibody

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In his 1916 writing guide, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch calls this word "a barbarism, and a mongrel at that." He complains that "when it became an accepted custom for each nation to use its own language in scientific treatises, it certainly was not foreseen that men of science would soon be making discoveries at a rate which left their skill in words outstripped," and that "they would bombast out our dictionaries with monstrously invented words." He concludes that "for our own self-respect, whilst we retain any sense of intellectual pedigree, antibody is no word to throw at a bacillus."

8. Electrocution

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In 1899, the Chicago Eagle advised its readers that this word, though "popularly applied to this process of inflicting capital punishment, is a bad and incorrect one," and the correct term was "execution by electricity." The Sacramento Daily Record-Union said, "the English language has enough to bear in the way of absurdity, slang and vulgarity, without this new affliction." But the best condemnation of electrocution came from Ambrose Bierce's 1909 catalogue of language peeves, Write it Right, where he called the word "no less than disgusting, and the thing meant by it is felt to be altogether too good for the word's inventor."

9. Proposition

For decades, style guides hated the use of proposition for proposal. In 1914, an English professor named Richard Burnton described his irritation with the word this way: "Take the ubiquitous and awful word proposition. Used at first in business and perhaps needed there, it has waxed so arrogant that you hear it on every side, wherever two or three are gathered together. 'That's a different proposition' is sickeningly familiar to the jaded ear, and may now be taken to refer to anything from a comparison of the beauty of women to a statement of a new turn in the Balkan imbroglio."

10. Demote

When people started using demote as the opposite of promote in the 1890s, they would put quotation marks around it to indicate there was uncertainty about whether it was okay to use. Some argued that retromote would be a better word from an etymological standpoint, but one letter to the editor called both coinages "barbarisms," and proposed that the proper term for sending someone down a class was the one used at Harvard—drop. Though demote came to be accepted pretty quickly, it appeared on the "Don't List" of editorial standards for the New York Herald until 1918 with the comment, "there is no word demote."

11. Balance

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Balance, in the sense of "what's left of something" was once frowned upon as an irritating misuse of bookkeeping jargon. In 1913, The American Business Encyclopedia and Legal Adviser advised against using it in social situations outside the office where it was considered "vulgar." The literary critic Richard Grant White lamented that "people speak even of the balance of a day, of spending thus or so the balance of their time, or even the balance of their lives" and that he found this "hideous English…it cannot be too often or too severely censured."

12. Donate

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White didn't hold back on donate either: "I need hardly say, that this word is utterly abominable – one that any lover of simple honest English cannot hear with patience and without offence. It has been formed by some presuming and ignorant person from donation…when we have give, present, grant, confer, endow, bequeath, devise, with which to express the act of transferring possession in all its possible varieties."

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Beyond “Buffalo buffalo”: 9 Other Repetitive Sentences From Around The World
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Famously, in English, it’s possible to form a perfectly grammatical sentence by repeating the word buffalo (and every so often the place name Buffalo) a total of eight times: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo essentially means “buffalo from Buffalo, New York, who intimidate other buffalo from Buffalo, New York, are themselves intimidated by buffalo from Buffalo, New York.” But repetitive or so-called antanaclastic sentences and tongue twisters like these are by no means unique to English—here are a few in other languages that you might want to try.

1. “LE VER VERT VA VERS LE VERRE VERT” // FRENCH

This sentence works less well in print than Buffalo buffalo, of course, but it’s all but impenetrable when read aloud. In French, le ver vert va vers le verre vert means “the green worm goes towards the green glass,” but the words ver (worm), vert (green), vers (towards), and verre (glass) are all homophones pronounced “vair,” with a vowel similar to the E in “bet” or “pet.” In fact, work the French heraldic word for squirrel fur, vair, in there somewhere and you’d have five completely different interpretations of the same sound to deal with.

2. “CUM EO EO EO EO QUOD EUM AMO” // LATIN

Eo can be interpreted as a verb (“I go”), an adverb ("there," "for that reason"), and an ablative pronoun (“with him” or “by him”) in Latin, each with an array of different shades of meaning. Put four of them in a row in the context cum eo eo eo eo quod eum amo, and you’ll have a sentence meaning “I am going there with him because I love him.”

3. “MALO MALO MALO MALO” // LATIN

An even more confusing Latin sentence is malo malo malo malo. On its own, malo can be a verb (meaning “I prefer,” or “I would rather”); an ablative form of the Latin word for an apple tree, malus (meaning “in an apple tree”); and two entirely different forms (essentially meaning “a bad man,” and “in trouble” or “in adversity”) of the adjective malus, meaning evil or wicked. Although the lengths of the vowels differ slightly when read aloud, put all that together and malo malo malo malo could be interpreted as “I would rather be in an apple tree than a wicked man in adversity.” (Given that the noun malus can also be used to mean “the mast of a ship,” however, this sentence could just as easily be interpreted as, “I would rather be a wicked man in an apple tree than a ship’s mast.”)

4. “FAR, FÅR FÅR FÅR?” // DANISH

Far (pronounced “fah”) is the Danish word for father, while får (pronounced like “for”) can be used both as a noun meaning "sheep" and as a form of the Danish verb , meaning "to have." Far får får får? ultimately means “father, do sheep have sheep?”—to which the reply could come, får får ikke får, får får lam, meaning “sheep do not have sheep, sheep have lambs.”

5. “EEEE EE EE” // MANX

Manx is the Celtic-origin language of the Isle of Man, which has close ties to Irish. In Manx, ee is both a pronoun (“she” or “it”) and a verb (“to eat”), a future tense form of which is eeee (“will eat”). Eight letter Es in a row ultimately can be divided up to mean “she will eat it.”

6. “COMO COMO? COMO COMO COMO COMO!” // SPANISH

Como can be a preposition (“like,” “such as”), an adverb (“as,” “how”), a conjunction (“as”), and a verb (a form of comer, “to eat”) in Spanish, which makes it possible to string together dialogues like this: Como como? Como como como como! Which means “How do I eat? I eat like I eat!”

7. “Á Á A Á Á Á Á.” // ICELANDIC

Á is the Icelandic word for river; a form of the Icelandic word for ewe, ær; a preposition essentially meaning “on” or “in;” and a derivative of the Icelandic verb eiga, meaning “to have,” or “to possess.” Should a person named River be standing beside a river and simultaneously own a sheep standing in or at the same river, then that situation could theoretically be described using the sentence Á á á á á á á in Icelandic.

8. “MAI MAI MAI MAI MAI” // THAI

Thai is a tonal language that uses five different tones or patterns of pronunciation (rising, falling, high, low, and mid or flat) to differentiate between the meanings of otherwise seemingly identical syllables and words: glai, for instance, can mean both “near” and “far” in Thai, just depending on what tone pattern it’s given. Likewise, the Thai equivalent of the sentence “new wood doesn’t burn, does it?” is mai mai mai mai mai—which might seem identical written down, but each syllable would be given a different tone when read aloud.

9. “THE LION-EATING POET IN THE STONE DEN” // MANDARIN CHINESE

Mandarin Chinese is another tonal language, the nuances of which were taken to an extreme level by Yuen Ren Chao, a Chinese-born American linguist and writer renowned for composing a bizarre poem entitled "The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den." When written in its original Classical Chinese script, the poem appears as a string of different characters. But when transliterated into the Roman alphabet, every one of those characters is nothing more than the syllable shi:

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

The only difference between each syllable is its intonation, which can be either flat (shī), rising (shí), falling (shì) or falling and rising (shǐ); you can hear the entire poem being read aloud here, along with its English translation.

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'Froyo,' 'Troll,' and 'Sriracha' Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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Looking for the right word to describe the time you spend drinking before heading out to a party, or a faster way to say “frozen yogurt?" Merriam-Webster is here to help. The 189-year-old English vocabulary giant has just added 250 new words and definitions to their online dictionary, including pregame and froyo.

New words come and go quickly, and it’s Merriam-Webster’s job to keep tabs on the terms that have staying power. “As always, the expansion of the dictionary mirrors the expansion of the language, and reaches into all the various cubbies and corners of the lexicon,” they wrote in their announcement.

Froyo is just one of the recent additions to come from the culinary world. Bibimbap, a Korean rice dish; choux pastry, a type of dough; and sriracha, a Thai chili sauce that’s been around for decades but has just recently exploded in the U.S., are now all listed on Merriam-Webster's website.

Of course, the internet was once again a major contributor to this most recent batch of words. Some new terms, like ransomware (“malware that requires the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files”) come from the tech world, while words like troll ("to harass, criticize, or antagonize [someone] especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts”) were born on social media. Then there’s the Internet of Things, a concept that shifts the web off our phones and computers and into our appliances.

Hive mind, dog whistle, and working memory are just a few of the new entries to receive the Merriam-Webster stamp of approval. To learn more about how some words make it into the dictionary while others get left out, check these behind-the-scenes secrets of dictionary editors.

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