The Most Cringeworthy English Words

I can't stand that word!

We've compiled a list of the most cringeworthy words in the English language to try and determine what makes these words so awkward (and hated). We're giving each one of these an Ew ranking, as well. Brace yourself . . . .

Editor note: Sure to stir some debate among linguists, an online search has determined that moist usually wins this type of competition (so we're not going to include that one here because that's just too easy).

Mucus

Many of these words have to do with some type of bodily fluid. You'll see the theme, trust us. There's just something about this topic that's perpetually cringeworthy.

Let's lead off with mucus. How's this for a zinger of a definition: "a viscous, slimy mixture of mucins, water, electrolytes, epithelial cells, and leukocytes that is secreted by glands lining the nasal, esophageal, and other body cavities and serves primarily to protect and lubricate surfaces."

Viscous . . . slimy . . . secreted . . . lubricatethis word has all the makings of true disgust. Even thinking about mucus can trigger the gag reflex.

Ew Rating: Ewwwwwwwwww

Clogged

You immediately think of the drain, the sink, the toilet, the sewer, right? And, these are all conduits of, yes, bodily fluids. Which makes it OK to be filled with revulsion when you picture one of these clogged conduits and the pungent aromas that come with.

Ew Rating: Ewwwww

Slacks

We wanted to throw you a curve with this one, but it deserves its place here, according to an article in The New Yorker magazine (where it was once decided it was the worst word in the English language).

Alan Greenman (of the magazine) said "People said it felt like rubbing the palm of their hand over polyester, to say that word out loud." Greenman added the word, like moist, has a "bad texture."

Ew Rating: Ew

Dripping

What do bodily fluids do most? They drip. This is a very visual word, too. It's easy for our mind's eye to imagine something dripping. (Our ears pick it up too, like the faucet at three in the morning.)

Our definition is skewed more toward cooking: "fat and juices exuded from meat in cooking, used for basting, for making gravy, or as a cooking fat," and even though it's talking about food here it still sounds just . . . gross. Thesaurus.com has some excellent synonyms, as well: trickle, dribble, leak.

Ew Rating: Ewwww

Phlegm

We dislike this one not only for what it represents, but for the fact that it's hard to spell due to that silent g too. Phlegm is "the thick mucus secreted in the respiratory passages and discharged through the mouth, especially that occurring in the lungs and throat passages, as during a cold." Yuck.

Ew Rating: Ewwwwwwwwww

Rural

Aha, one that doesn't take us down to the Beavis and Butthead level. Why is rural so reviled? Because it's very hard to pronounce!

Your mouth invariably has a hard time forming the rur syllable and you end up saying "in the country" instead. Y'all come back now, ya heah?

Ew Rating: Ew

Discharge

Discharge's definition comes out swingin'. "To emit a substance, as by excretion or secretion." Discharge is yet another visually impactful (which is a another one people don't like, either) word.

We know exactly what it is, and other than electricity or leaving the hospital or the military, there isn't much else but bodily fluids that we can associate with discharge.

Ew Rating: Ewwwwwwwwww

Sputum

This may be one of the more unknown words on the list, but once you read the definition you'll know why it's here.

We define sputum as "matter, as saliva mixed with mucus or pus, expectorated from the lungs and respiratory passages." This is the main reason why tissues exist. It also rhymes with ew, so it has our vote.

Ew Rating: Ewwwwwwwwww

Goiter

This is "an enlargement of the thyroid gland on the front and sides of the neck, usually symptomatic of abnormal thyroid secretion, especially hypothyroidism due to a lack of iodine in the diet."

Goiter is included because of the goi at the beginning, just like the oint in ointment. It's an "oi" thing, also known as a digraph (another slightly repulsive word, no?).

Ew Rating: Ewwwwwwwwww

Ointment

Well, speaking of . . . ointment is a "a soft, unctuous preparation, often medicated, for application to the skin; unguent."

As mentioned above, that oi really makes this word sound awkward. And, you know what other word contains the dreaded oimoist.

Ew Rating: Ewww

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