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What’s your Word Bug?




Whats your Word Bug?“It’s fewer!! Fewer voters turned out, not less” (My 3 year old seemed relieved it was the radio getting a ticking off for a change!)  It bugs me – I don’t know why. Is it the result of being in TEFL for over 20 years and feeling rather superior that [some] broadcasters should have a better grasp of grammar? Possibly.

But there are words that irritate me too. ‘Lush’, for example. The only thing I feel should be described as ‘lush’ is grass or some kind of vegetation and I object to it being used as a generic adjective for everything from George Clooney to chocolate cake.

Perhaps this is less about the word itself and more to do with its use (or misuse), but it did start me thinking about personal bug-bears and annoyances when it comes to language and words.

In the nature of controlled scientific research, I Googled ‘most hated words’ and was surprised at the number of polls that have been taken on this and the range of people who have responded.

Literally’ was  deemed to be the most irritating word by Daily Telegraph readers and this was in response to a poll run by researchers at Oxford University where ‘At the end of the day’ came in as hot favourite, closely followed by ‘fairly unique’.

YouGov ran a poll among the internet community and surprisingly ‘blog’ came in third? Perhaps that was before we all started doing it. Babycenter.com contributors objected to ‘preggers‘.  Even ‘bun in the oven was preferable to this.

Pulchritude’ was a new word for me but, according to a Guardian poll, it causes even poets to wince. Not its use or meaning – indeed, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 8th edition informed me it means beautiful – but rather its sound. Its consonants make it sound harsh and anything but beautiful,  so I will add this to my list along with ‘masticate’,pus and decrepit’.


Asking around colleagues it seems ‘business-speak’ particularly irritates.  Is it because in an industry where you strive to explain what you mean, it’s all about not saying what you mean? “Let’s park that for now – we’ll ‘brainstorm’ it in our our next meeting” Pardon?

In the same vein ‘teen-speak’ which includes conversations punctuated with ‘like’ or whatever (accompanied by a suitably dismissive gesture) seem also to irritate and enrage.

One student blog I recently read included ‘unnecessarily‘ on the list of words they dislike because it’s so difficult to spell.  This is in the language they’re learning but they’ve probably also got a Word Bug in their own language. Could be a good topic for classroom discussion.

Here’s what some of my colleagues at Oxford University Press had to say about their Word Bugs:

So let’s face it, everyone has one.  At the end of the day, what’s your Word Bug?

Emma Belcher
Assistant Product Manager, Reference
Oxford University Press

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  1. Thanks! This was really interesting! I think that maybe I’m getting to this point, but because I feel like my language is really limited where I am. I feel like I’ve lost a grasp of my English, and I now dumb down my language.
    I do also laugh every time someone uses “literally” to mean “figuratively.”
    I also find it extremely ironic that our students always tell us that they are “boring” and my colleagues say that the students are “stressful” in the exams (meaning stressed.)

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. My bug: “shed light” (in the way frequently used by sociologists and linguists), e.g. “This paper attempts to shed light on …” – is it really that necessary to be so melodramatic?

  3. It’s a question of literacy, education, social surroundings, and upbringing.
    Repetition is most effective in the learning stage, which is another reason for ‘overuse’.
    These can also be effective as fillers, intensifiers, connectors, or just plain coolness and sex appeal.
    Okay, for me it’s the word PEOPLE which rubs the other way. Want to know why…? Write to me.

  4. oh yeah, and the other annoying one is the misuse of FOR EXAMPLE.
    (look it up and use it sparingly).
    SUCH AS is a tad more eloquent.
    ‘Eloquence is what it all boils down to’. (paraphrase from Stephan Fry).

  5. Proactive really annoys me.

    I also hate it when people say “I could care less” when they mean they couldn’t care less.

  6. What really bothers me isn´t so much the mis-use of words but when the background music on a video is so loud and distracting that you can hardly hear the dialogue…just like on this one.!!!!

  7. An eclectic mix of bugging words here. My own favourite, or should that be anti-favourite, is ‘like’ used as a reported speech marker. By way of illustration I heard this exchange on a bus a month or two ago. ‘And I’m like – yeah, it does don’t it?’
    I’m also tempted to cross the ‘persons’ on lift capacity plates and substitute ‘people’. As in ‘Maximun capacity 14 persons’
    Business speak too increasingly annoys me. No particular word, just the whole genre.

  8. My hate is “obviously”. If it’s obvious, why waste our time and insult our intelligence by saying/writing it..?

  9. Hi
    Nice report!
    I thought the background music of the film was too loud though….

  10. This is a bit pedantic but it really annoys me when TV and radio reporters use ‘amount’ instead of ‘number’ e.g The amount of people in the crowd. Why? Are they going to weigh them?

  11. I agree with Joseph and Annelies; the background music would make it impossible to use it with my class.
    As for the most annoying word; it’s easily ‘I’m good’ as a response to ‘How are you?’

    • I absolutely find that annoying; it sounds like the person is boasting. I will continue to teach my students to reply “I’m fine” until a luminary in English language officially says “I’m good” is correct and must be used instead.

  12. Very interesting and hilarious read. The responses are more so. The bug that infested the word “Pulchritude” reminds me of words that have melodious sound but stinky meaning. The one word that immediately springs to mind is “Halitosis”. The word means “bad breath”!

  13. Thanks for all your comments, everyone!

    We are aware that the backing music in this video is too loud to clearly hear what some of the speakers are saying. Unfortunately, we are unable to change the sound levels in the video at this point.

    There is, however, another Word Bugs video available at https://youtu.be/oxHTmuICb6U?hd=1 with much softer music that might be more appropriate to use with your students.

    We apologise for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.

    OUP ELT Global Blog Team

  14. I wander what I may call the word that I reall like… i like using it either.
    i.e. the opposite of word bug

  15. I have a few.

    (a) The now common use of “grow” as in, “The goal for next year is to grow the business by 20%:” Also using “gift” as a verb.

    (b) The pronunciation of distribute with the stress on the first syllable instead of the second. (I know it’s accepted but it still makes me wince.)

    (c) Sticking an extra would in the third conditional. Every time I watch an American TV show I hear, “If I would have bought the first one…” Drives me nuts.

    (d) People who say, “Are you all right” instead of “hello”, and “cheers” instead of “here you are” (only OK when you are being passed beer or change in a pub).

    Glad I’ve got that off my chest.

  16. UpStep (ling.) – I just ignore it?
    pretty annoying, esp. when you hear people saying, “I’m from New York?” – as if we didn’t know where that was. duh!

  17. I detest the word kiddo….I guess some people think it makes them look more caring, but it just annoys me to no end!

  18. In “How To” video instructions : “Then you wanna do this… you wanna do that… you wanna make sure” … “You wanna…” every two sentences, instead of simple imperative forms, or even a variety of simple phrases such as “you need”, “you should”, “don’t forget to”, “remember to”, “make sure you…”.

  19. I loathe it when people use the word “basically” and the end of whatever half-baked opinion they’ve just spouted and then sniff, as though the word “basically” meant “Aren’t I astonishingly witty and erudite?”

    I’m heartily in agreement with the lady who doesn’t like “LOL”, also. Either laugh out loud, or don’t.

  20. It was interesting to read all these comments. Where I live you can’t usually hear people speaking English. As for me I can hear it from my students only.(By the way, is it OK to say “as for me”?) And believe me, “I’m good” as a reply to “How are you?” is not the worst variant. What about “Yes” as an answer?

  21. I get irritated at the use of “issues” to mean problems or mistakes.
    Another new jargon exrpression I’ve noticed (in bureaucratic settings) is “piece” (or is it “peace”?) as in “in this piece we need to….”.

  22. Is it too late to join in? I hope not.
    What bugs me is the use of the present continuous instead of the present simple with those much-used verbs ‘like’ and ‘love’, such as “I’m liking the weather we’re having at the moment” or “I’m just loving so-and-so’s new hairstyle” – uggh!!

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