It seems as if we’ll be stuck with it forever. A poll of 1,173 adults, conducted by researchers at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., discovered that the word “whatever,” has — for the fifth straight year — secured the title as the most annoying word in conversation.
But before we hoist the trophy higher than the Seattle Seahawks will raise theirs in two weeks, let me explain that “whatever” has company. Thirty-eight percent of the respondents to the telephone survey chose “whatever” as most annoying, followed by words we hear daily in Las Vegas: “like,” 22 percent; “ya know,” 18 percent. Also getting votes were “just sayin’” and “obviously.”
What inheres in a word that makes our back teeth ache? Well, I’ve spent hours trying to explain that certain words are pretty, others not. “The murmuring of innumerable bees” is pretty; the f-word is not. And we’re not necessarily referring to what the words represent — solely to the sounds they make.
And there’s also a bit of semantics that tempers our like or dislike of words.
Let’s go back to “whatever.” I became convinced of the annoyance of the word once when I was making arrangements to pay a utility bill in advance. The company didn’t have the miracle of drafting money from our account; rather, we needed to pay by check. So to save on postage and envelopes, I told the clerk I’d like to pay several months in advance.
“Whatever,” she said. I thought “what?” You see, “whatever” generally is intended as a put-down, a declaration that whatever is on the other person’s mind, I’m not interested. I stopped listening. For example, during a quarrel, one of the combatants is likely to say “whatever” as in “Go ahead and tell Momma,” or “Do whatever you want. I don’t care.”
Or let’s say a bullified linebacker tells the opposing rookie, “I’m gonna rip your lungs out with an ice cream scoop.” To prevent seeing his internal organs hanging from the goalpost, the youngster might be limited to uttering “whatever” (or possibly “whatever you say, sir.”)
For that reason, and in those contexts, I wondered why, how and when the clerk’s politeness quotient had become impaired. Remember, when a person offers to pay several months in advance, that’s not a time for the connotation of “I don’t care.”
Generally, when we hear that word — the five-year champion of the Marist College pollsters — the person uttering it doesn’t really understand or chooses not to. I can imagine a mechanic explaining, “Hmmm. It looks like we’re going to have to replace the inter-spatial, chromium-lined defibrillators that send data to your car’s cranial storage unit, bypassing the hemi doo-hickey apparatus.”
What can the car owner say but “whatever”? In this case, the word results not from spite or vitriol, but purely from confusion: “I don’t exactly understand what’s wrong with my car, but I’ll let you do whatever it needs, within reason.
The Marist College survey omitted a pair of words we hear all the time in the Meadow City. And that phrase is “Well anyway.” It’s tantamount to rambling and soon realizing, “Hey, I failed entirely to make my point. Well anyway.” And then the sentence trails off.
• • •
Have you ever known people who do things out of season? Turkey, apparently, isn’t available except on the fourth Thursday of November.
And just maybe some grocers deign to make it available for Christmas. Try ordering a turkey sandwich in April, for example.
One person who does certain things out of season is my wife, Bonnie, whose love for Christmas carols runs roughly from Dec. 24 through Dec. 23 of the following year. Here’s proof:
We traded in a car at what used to be the Ford dealership (Carmean? Highlands? Enchantment?) in town, a few years back. Bob Abreu, our salesman, apparently was responsible for checking what was left inside the trade-in before it went to the next buyer. When sale time came, he phoned us, announcing that we’d left something in our trade-in. We were already in town, so we went for the CD Bob was eager to pass on to us.
Then he called me aside and asked, “Do you realize Bonnie had a Christmas CD in the player — and it’s June?” Bob’s tone was a wee bit urgent, as if he were implying she was in league with the Unibomber.
I’m on Bob’s side. But thanks to him, I got to listen to “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” and entire panoply of yuletide music on our trip out of town that same afternoon.
Because I’m trying to be fair while not being a creature of habit, I submit the following items that I snared from the Internet. So put yourself in the holiday season — it wasn’t really that long ago — and try to decipher the following hymns and carols:
- Bleached Yule
- Castaneous-colored Seed Vesicated in a Conflagration
- Singular Yearning for the Twin Anterior Incisors
- Righteous Darkness
- Arrival Time 2400 hours — Weather Cloudless
- Loyal Followers Advance
- Far Off in a Feeder
- Array the Corridors
- Bantam Male Percussionist
- Monarchial Triad
- Nocturnal Noiselessness
- Jehovah Deactivate the Blithe Chevaliers
- Red Man En Route to Borough
- Frozen Precipitation Commence
- Proceed and Enlighten on the Pinnacle
- The Quadruped with the Vermilion Proboscis
- Query Regarding Identity of Descendant
- Delight for this Planet
- Give Attention to the Melodious Celestial Beings
- The Dozen Festive 24-Hour Intervals
• • •
Please send your answers to the carol quiz to an email address below. There might even be a prize for the winner.
Well anyway . . .