These Words Can Be Real Debbie Downers

These days, we like getting things instantly. Our Netflix shows, our Amazon orders, our messages, our successes—we want ’em now! But, instant coffee? Bleh. We’ll stick with our iced macchiatos, thank you very much.

Some words, like instant, are great on their own, but when you slap them in front of other words, they make them sounds less credible or desirable. We’re calling them Debbie Downer words, because Debbie really knows how to ruin a party. Here are eight other Debbie Downers that really know how to rain on a word parade.


The word home has been passed down from the Old English word ham, referring to various dwellings like “an abode,” “fixed residence,” and even “region.” Building a safe and comfortable home for oneself, figuratively or literally, is one of our most important projects in life. There are some instances, however, when the word home isn’t so welcome. 

Take, for instance, home-schooled, homemaker, or housewife. Certain professions or activities, when given that home label, come off as inferior, unprofessional, or lazy. Some don’t take people who work from home, for instance, as seriously as those who commute to the office. (They’re probably just jealous.)

And, what about something that is homemade. It probably seems pretty charming, like that sweater above, but it can also imply it’s a little bit crappy, like that sweater above. Except maybe your grandma’s homemade pie, we aren’t knocking that, no way.


We’ve been analyzing our selves since we’ve been conscious. And, the word self is an ancient one, too, found in Old English and from yet older Germanic roots. The word self thumps its chest with individuality—I am my own self! It exudes pride and self-respect. There are other occasions, though, in which self comes off as, well, self-righteous.

Think of those that preach self-improvement or those that label themselves as self-starters or self-made … right, Kylie Jenner? These buzzwords can sound holier-than-thou, and often they don’t win esteem as much as they just look showy. Maybe it’s because these terms come off as just a little bit … selfish.


Doesn’t it seem like something that calls itself extreme is anything but? Take extreme frisbee. Calling frisbee extreme only calls attention to how non-extreme frisbee is. It also calls into question our use of the word extreme itself.

This may have to do with the core definition of extreme, a word that comes from the Latin extremus, meaning such things as “outermost” or “last.” For something to be extreme, it has to have “a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average.”

So, juxtaposing extreme to something that is plain vanilla—such as frisbee—feels like it just cancels out extreme‘s extraordinariness. Extreme bobsledding, on the other hand … we can get behind that use of extreme.


Life is full of possibility. Anything is possible. But sometimes, possible just isn’t passable. Like when the media reports on a possible hate crime or even when the weatherperson says rain is possible.

By definition, possible means something “may or can be,” from a Latin root meaning “that can be done.” But, in many situations, many people want a statement that is a little more definitive or assertive than possible.

Possible rain leaves too much uncertainty. A possible hate crime feels like a newspaper isn’t calling out bigotry. Can’t we tell it like it is, already?


It’s hard to avoid automatic technology in these times, whether your car is getting assembled or you’re getting your car washed. Automation is a fact of progress, but it still leaves many of us feeling unsettled.

When something is automatic, it has “the capability of starting, operating, or moving independently,”from Greek roots meaning “self-animated.” (See, there’s that self again.)

But if a person does something automatically? That indicates a lack of thought, even emotion. This might be why our interactions with, say, automated customer service is so difficult and infuriating. 


Fast has grown, um, quickly since its Old English days as fæst, meaning “strong” or “firmly.” One of its most common senses, meaning “rapid(ly),” wasn’t established, however, until the 1200s.Fast has a positive association in a world run by high-speed internet. But, when an item is made fast, we often think of it as done cheaply and poorly. Like fast foodOr fast women, which slanders them as promiscuous. Not cool.

There’s also the idea that if something is fast, it’s easy. Easy doesn’t require much work—and may not be worth much in the end. After all, slow and steady, the tortoise taught us, wins the race.


“Freedom!” Braveheart cried. “Live free or die!” John Stark urged. “I want to break free!” Freddie Mercury belted. We all want our freedom.

The word free, found in Old English, ultimately comes from an ancient Germanic root meaning “not in bondage” or “beloved.” But, free isn’t always so desirable. When free is plastered across shop windows or ad banners, we’re usually skeptical about its worth and quality. And, it always seems like there’s strings attached even if a place is only offering a free coffee or taco; there’s no such thing as as free lunch, so they say. Free isn’t always free of negative connotations, sorry Braveheart.

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Word of the Day

Can you guess the definition?


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Can you guess the definition?

Word of the day

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