Excerpt from Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut, ©1990:
There are no dirty words in this book, except for “hell” and “God,” in case someone is fearing that an innocent child might see 1. The expression I will use here and there for the end of the Vietnam War, for example, will be: “when the excrement hit the air-conditioning.”
Perhaps the only precept taught me by Grandfather Wills that I have honored all my adult life is that profanity and obscenity entitle people who don’t want unpleasant information to close their eyes and ears to you.
I believe that is true.
If your oncologist, for example, said to you, “You have a *#%^! tumor, we’re going to cut that *#%^! right on out of there,” I think you’d ask to see credentials before proceeding.
“I’m humbled, honored, proud.” ~Michelle Obama, at the unveiling of her official portrait (source)
I don’t think she knows what the word “humbled” means.
Of course, the word “literally” now literally means “figuratively,” so maybe the definition of “humbled” changed, too, while I was distracted with other things. Maybe I’m the one using it wrong.
That’s a humbling thought.
This is a pretty esoteric list: words that end with “sm,” excluding ones that end with the suffix “ism.” If you include the ones with that suffix– ageism, sexism, dadaism– the list becomes too unmanageable.
So, with that caveat, I could only come up with three:
The only time people use the word “lest” anymore is on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, when they like to say, “Lest we forget.”
It’s a pompous, pretentious word, and I don’t care for it.
From the introduction to Eyewitness to History edited by John Carey, © 1987:
To achieve this effect the good reporter’s report must be individual. It must restore to his experience the uniqueness it rightly possesses– and which worn-out language tries to rob it of. Nietzsche argued that language was originally developed to shield mankind from the inconceivable welter of pre-linguistic reality in which everything– every tree, stone, and breath of wind– was unique. To simplify this mind-jamming variety, language supplied category words– stone, tree, wind– which allowed man to generalize. Though this brought gains, it also entailed losses, because the individuality each creature actually possesses is now hidden beneath the grey blanket of words.
I had never considered language to be an impediment to how we view the world, but I think Nietzsche was right to point out that in some circumstances it can be.
I always liked the way the way certain attributes are described in French. In English we say, “She is beautiful,” or “He is fat,” but in French they say “She has beauty,” “He has fat.” I like the way appearances are considered not an intrinsic part of the person, but just something they have with them for the moment.
It feels both more honest and more kind.