Whatever, It's The Most Annoying Word; Duh

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Forty-seven percent of Americans polled by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion said that the most annoying word in the English language is: "whatever." Our own unscientific radio survey about annoying words or phrases in English resulted in answers ranging from "duh" to "no worries."

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

A new opinion poll is out and this one is not about the president's popularity or American's appetite for overhauling health care. It's about which words and phrases annoy us the most. We were inspired to walk outside the NPR building and conduct a similar radio survey, unscientific of course.

Mr. ARTHUR JACOBSEN(ph): You know what I mean, because it comes in parts of sentences where it really doesn't belong mostly.

Mr. RANDY FOSTER(ph): Duh.

Ms. CILIA BERARA(ph): Oh my God.

Mr. NICHOLAS OVERLY(ph): No worries. We hear it all the time up in Alaska, I think, everybody thinks that they're Australian.

Unidentified Man: You go girl.

Ms. JANE WALKER(ph): Whatever - I think drives me mad.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Well, the whatevers have it. Forty-seven percent of those polled by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion think the word whatever is the most annoying. This man…

Mr. JESSE SHEIDLOWER (Editor-at-large, Oxford English dictionary): Jesse Sheidlower, I'm the Editor-at-large for the Oxford English dictionary.

NORRIS: …says whatever has been around since the 1970s.

Mr. SHEIDLOWER: The earliest example that we've been able to find is from 1973. And interestingly this was from a document produced by the Department of Defense addressed to returning prisoners of war from Vietnam. There was a list of various things that they might want to be aware of and one of them was whatever which was defined as equivalent to that's what I meant.

BLOCK: And Sheidlower adds that…

Unidentified Woman: Whatever…

BLOCK: …has been annoying people for decades.

Mr. SHEIDLOWER: In early 1982, so before the Valley Girl craze hit, we have an example in the OED from the San Francisco Examiner going on at some length about it and saying, you know, when someone responds whatever, he or she seems to be saying I'm amenable to anything. I'll defer to you. But in my experience, when a person says whatever, he or she is really saying, I don't want to take any responsibility. You do all the deciding and then I'll pass judgment.

NORRIS: So, there you have it. Americans have hated whatever for a long time.

BLOCK: Twenty five percent of those polled by Marist are also bothered by: you know.

NORRIS: A meager two percent don't like at the end of the day.

GUY RAZ: My name is Guy Raz. And I host ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on the weekend. On occasion, I say it, like, I'll be in an interview with somebody else. I'll be talking to an author, you know, about their book and I'll say at the end of the day - and then I stop myself.

BLOCK: Yeah, Yeah, whatever, Guy.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Earlier, we heard from Arthur Jacobsen, Randy Foster, Cilia Berara, Nicholas Overly, and Jane Walker.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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