By Mark Peters
It’s easy to find articles about words people hate. Just google for a nanominute and you’ll find rants against moist, like, whom, irregardless, retarded, synergy, and hordes of other offending lexical items. Word-hating is rampant.
So if that’s the kind of thing that yanks your lexical crank, look elsewhere: this column is all about word love, word lust, word like, word kissy-face, and word making-sweet-love-down-by-the-fire, as South Park’s Chef would put it.
These words not only float my boat; they rock my socks and warm my cocoa. I love these words, and this is my attempt to figure out why. If such analysis ruins the love, as so often happens in life, big whup. There are plenty of other words in the sea.
We’ll never know why intelligent young citizens become proctologists (or how they break the news to Ma and Pa back on the farm) but we do know that words for the butticular region tend to be vivid and fun. Wazoo is my favorite. The OED traces it back to a friendly suggestion made in 1961: “Run it up yer ol’ wazoo!” I couldn’t agree more with a 1975 example: “Dating is a real pain in the wazoo.”
So what’s so great about wazoo? Studies show you can’t say it and be in a bad mood. Try it and see: wazoo wazoo wazoo wazoo wazoo. It’s funny and silly and a blast to say. Surely, it’s a better world with wazoo in it.
Bonus wazoo words: I am also a staunch admirer of gazoomba, bippy, badonkadonk, bottom, tush, fanny, fourth point of contact, and tuchus.
My mother always warned me to avoid two things: packs of wild dogs and the abyss. Still, I can’t stop reveling in this word. Part of the appeal is its meaning. You have to love a definition this ultra-hellish: “The great deep, the primal chaos; the bowels of the earth, the supposed cavity of the lower world; the infernal pit.” The OED’s secondary meaning is nearly as cool: “A bottomless gulf; any unfathomable or apparently unfathomable cavity or void space; a profound gulf, chasm, or void extending beneath.”
Also, I love looking into the abyss—except when I make the void jealous. The void is very insecure, you know.
When it comes to a perfect marriage of humor and stupidity, you can’t get any better than Beavis and Butthead, and I have yet to greet the day when I get tired of hearing their litany of immature, silly insults, such as dumbass, bunghole, peckerwood, dillweed, dillhole, and butt dumpling.
For me, the dumbass laureate of these words is buttmunch, so I was pleased to learn its origin in the DVD extra “Taint of Greatness: The Journey of Beavis and Butt-head, Part 1.” As B&B creator Mike Judge tells the tale, “Standards at MTV said no to assmunch. So I said, how about buttmunch? So we started saying buttmunch so many times, and then I just inadvertently said assmunch once. And they just heard buttmunch so many times that assmunch didn’t sound like anything new, so then assmunch slipped past ‘em. And that’s the story of assmunch and buttmunch.”
My marginally reliable memory told me I first saw this magnificent word in a Bloom County cartoon. Lucky for me and the rest of humanity, the complete series is being collected so I was able to confirm my suspicions.
Sure enough, on May 26, 1982, at a Bloom County Town Council meeting, poofy-haired, dweebish Michael Binkley announced: “Okay. A group of us could sneak into the Pentagon one morning and flush all 760 toilets at the same time, effectively bursting the pipes and making the entire American military complex higgledy-piggledy.” Just in case you were as new to the word as the 10-year-old me, Binkley offered a definition in the final panel: “’Higgledy-piggledy’ means ‘a real mess.’” This porky word popped up again on Dec. 18, 1984, after Bill the Cat – like so many 80’s felines – was admitted to the Betty Ford clinic. This time, Binkley passed on the news that, “He (Bill) just sat on Liz Taylor. The whole place is higgledy-piggledy.”
The OED has several glorious examples, including this 1838 sentence by Hawthorne: “Pigs, on a march, do not subject themselves to any leader among themselves, but pass on, higgledy-piggledy, without regard to age or sex.” They also record two examples of higgledy-piggledyness, which is defined as “the quality or condition of being higgledy-piggledy.” I live for definitions like that (and for my Cylon masters, of course).
Speaking of my Cylon masters, regular readers of this blog already know I’m a little cuckoo for Cylon puffs. Besides the appeal of variations such as Cylontologist, Cylonify, and Cylongeddon, as well as the awesomeness of Battlestar Galactica, I feel this word has inherently excellent qualities. The high Cy plus the low lon and the echo of cyborg add up to a word that I never get tired of repeating. Cylon would also make a great name for a dog.
When you’re talking about primordial soup or primordial ooze, you’re talking about stuff so icky and old and portentous and primary that you – by which I mean “I” – can’t help but giggle. Like “days of yore,” primordial recalls bygone days in a vague, silly way that is as enjoyable as Swedish pancakes. FYI, I have it on good authority that primordial ooze predates yore by eleventy-zillion years.
This is a word that demands wider use. It could help to freshen up many common expressions, including some in the White House. President Obama’s poll numbers would likely rise to the skies if the First Lady were rebranded the Primordial Matriarch, and baseball players and lovebirds would get a gravitas injection if they went straight to primordial base.
No, not poo-poo. Pooh-pooh. These two meanings can be distinguished with the age-old parenting advice, “Never pooh-pooh your toddler’s poo-poo.”
Besides the pleasures of pooh-poohing, this term also spawned the pooh-pooh theory, which suggests language grew from ughs, ows, oofs, mmms, and eeks into the vast lexicon of today.
I can’t think of a better note to end this column on words I love with a sentence I love, written in 1938 by Isaac Goldberg: “In the dawn of language, the bow-wows and the pooh-poohs and even the ding-dongs must have served man well.”
I reckon they still do.
Mark Peters is a lexicographer, humorist, rabid tweeter, language columnist for Good and Visual Thesaurus, and the blogger behind The Rosa Parks of Blogs and The Pancake Proverbs.
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