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'Moist,' 'Dude' and 'Slacks': The Worst Words Ever?

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'Moist,' 'Dude' and 'Slacks': The Worst Words Ever?

Strange News

'Moist,' 'Dude' and 'Slacks': The Worst Words Ever?

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If you could eliminate a single word from the English language - just zap it, nuke it, prevent it from ever being used again - what would it be? That's the question that Ben Greenman of The New Yorker put to readers last week in the Culture Desk blog and, wow, the response was awesome.

And, then, that word that I just use, awesome, was a slated by, I gather, a bunch of readers for elimination.

BEN GREENMAN: Yeah, people hated it. And you should be ashamed that you just used it.


BLOCK: I'm so sorry.


BLOCK: I am.

GREENMAN: OK. I'm sure many words that were marked for death will come up again during our conversation, 'cause many were very popular words.

BLOCK: And would a lot of them fall into that category of maybe things that teens tend to say a lot of?

GREENMAN: Yeah, it's an interesting question because we did detect some reverse ageism. People didn't like like used as a sort of stopgap. Dude, people didn't like dude.

The contest started basically 'cause we counted all the words in the language and we found that there was one too many.


BLOCK: I see. So you wanted to figure out which one that was.

GREENMAN: Yeah, exactly. There was one extra one and rather than just arbitrarily decide on our own which one to knock out, we decided we would appeal to our very well-informed and language-obsessed readers. It wasn't ever intended to be a popular vote. We're taking nominations, after which we would go into the smoky backroom and pick a winner.

BLOCK: OK. Well, I think there would be one category which is ugly words; just words that sound nasty. Who were some of those?

GREENMAN: Phlegm. The word that came up the most was moist. People hate the word moist.

BLOCK: What is it with that? I don't understand, why is moist so widely hated?

GREENMAN: I don't know. I said in the round up that without the word it would leave bakers, meteorologists, and amateur pornographers lacking for what to do.


GREENMAN: But I think it's the texture of the word.

BLOCK: OK, Ben. Well, let's end the suspense here. The winner, wait for it...


BLOCK: The winner of the word that should be eliminated from the English-language, Ben Greenman, is...



BLOCK: Slacks.

GREENMAN: Slacks, and the more that word stayed on the table, the more preposterous it seemed 'cause there's lots of other words for it. It's sort of, in our minds, stuck in time - maybe '78, '79. And the texture of the word also is terrible. People said it felt like rubbing the palm of their hand over polyester to say that word out loud.


GREENMAN: It's gone, by the way, from the language.

BLOCK: And what does that mean to be gone? What is...

GREENMAN: It's gone. It doesn't exist any longer anywhere. We took care of it.


BLOCK: That's the power of The New Yorker, right there.

GREENMAN: It's gone.

BLOCK: And what does the winner get who submitted slacks as the word to eliminate?

GREENMAN: We decided in the end that we were going to have someone from our esteemed copy department write the word down on a piece of paper, crumple it up and throw it away. So it's a sort of ceremonial sacrifice of the word.


GREENMAN: And then, I think probably next week we're going to have people eliminate a number.


BLOCK: Any bets on which the most reviled number will be?

GREENMAN: I really don't know. Eleven and 17 is not that - I don't know. We'll see.

BLOCK: Well, Ben Greenman with The New Yorker, thanks very much for talking to us.

GREENMAN: Thank you.

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