Tea Time With Jesse

Six of One, Half Dozen the Other

Words That Bug Me

Posted by middlerage on December 20, 2012

On the spectrum of irrationality, getting bugged by words takes the cake. They’re not even things, just symbols. Aural signals of abstract thought.  But I can’t help myself. Sometimes I find these abstract symbols are just wrong in some mysterious way, and I am bugged. Here are a few examples:

sanguine. Sanguine bugs me because it is a beautiful word with the wrong meaning. When I first learned the word, I defined it from context (as we all do with most words we encounter), and contextually sanguine seemed to suggest a cool customer, a continental, devil-may-care, “whatever” shrug of gallic shoulders. But it doesn’t mean that at all! From the latin for blood, it actually means red-faced, but in a happy way; devil-may-care but with a hearty, “let’s eat a sausage sandwich” kind of way. It is florid, sweaty, breathless. Onomatopoeiatically it’s all wrong! Wrong wrong wrong. It is a slender wisp of a word, sexy and cool. Not an oafish, spittle-flinging, happy-go-lucky word. I suppose I am confusing it with sang froid, but sang froid is a noun, and I need an adjective. Was I florid about losing the pickle race? Or was I smoke-a-Gauloises cool? Frenchily “whatever” that I lost a stupid contest? I want, but can’t be, sanguine. Dohhh!

Or here’s one where it’s not the definition, but the word itself that bugs me. With apologies to my geophysics friends, I hate temblor! I keep wanting a bloody ‘R’ in there: tremblor. And why invent the word in the first place? What’s wrong with tremor? Or quake? Or earthquake? Yeah, even vague, wordy jargon like “seismic event” is wayyyy better than this root-stumble on the path of poetic oration. I tembled a tambourine whilst wearing a tam and taming a shrew. Gag.

Finally, gimlet-eyed is another word, like sanguine, where I like the word, but not the definition. Again, contextually, I probably came at this from first hearing about the gin & lime cocktail called a Gimlet. When I hear ‘gimlet’ I think clear, but watery, and I see those watery eyes peculiar to old men, when their aged tear ducts stop operating and they view the world through a blurry shot of gin. Nope, gimlet-eyed means piercing, eyes like a hawk, “The gimlet-eyed captain could see right through me, and knew me for the little smart ass I was.” I think part of the problem is that a gimlet is an archaic piercing tool. Hence the “piercing” looks. But onomatopoeiacally, it’s just not the right sound. It’s like saying, “That was cracking good spaghetti!”

So what about you? Don’t leave me hangin’. Any words that bug you? Maybe the letter ‘M’ or the number ‘5’? Or perhaps you have a gripe against the color orange. Let me know in comments!


5 Responses to “Words That Bug Me”

  1. Dahveed said

    Words I don’t like. Hmmm. My pet peeve are words/phrases that have become business platitudes — synergy, paradigm shift, game changer, visionary, monetize, incent (as a verb), agent of change, and so on.

    I might have to add the word onomatopoeic. So much effort involved with that one — I had to go to the dictionary to find out its meaning; saying, typing, and spelling it ain’t easy; and considering what it means the way it sounds is wholly unsatisfying. To use a business platitude phrase, it’s a high maintenance word. ;-).

    • middlerage said

      My pet peeve are words/phrases that have become business platitudes — synergy, paradigm shift, game changer, visionary, monetize, incent (as a verb), agent of change, and so on


  2. switbo said

    Hmm – I don’t know that I have any words that bug me, BUT I was surprised to discover the definition of sanguine in your post. Like you, I had inferred the definition from context of my reading and, like you, had always believed that it meant a cool customer. Someone who was unconcerned with the results of whatever was occurring. I would never have assumed, from the way that I have seen it used, that it was synonymous with florid.

    I wonder how many other words I have always interpreted incorrectly? I may have to start randomly looking up words!

    p.s. Gimlet-eyed I did understand to be “piercing”, but then again, I’ve never seen or had the cocktail Gimlet. 🙂

    • switbo said

      Okay, having posted this, I’ve now looked up “sanguine” on dictionary.com and the first definition they have listed is “cheerfully optimistic, hopeful, or confident”, which is different, but not TOO far off what I always assumed it to be. The second definition is “reddish, ruddy”.

    • middlerage said

      And just today, they news mentions a 7.5 temblor off the coast of Alaska. /grate

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