Beyond Words - Language Blog

The Ugliest Words in English

Robert E. Wolverton Sr., a Mississippi State classics professor, occasionally asks his students to vote on the most beautiful and the ugliest words in English. In his last survey conducted in 2009, the words vomit, moist, puke, phlegm, slaughter, snot, ugly, damp, and mucus, topped the list for ugliest. What makes one word uglier than another? Wolverton says a variety factors probably influence people’s perception of a word, from the word’s language of origin to the number of syllables it contains.

The associations people make between words and their meanings probably play a role in perception as well. When people hear the word mucus, they might first think of a slimy organic mixture secreted by glands throughout the body before considering the possibly hidden beauty of the word. Also, some words just don’t roll off the tongue.

We compiled our own list of the ugliest English words from a survey we conducted via Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Given that today does happen to be the tax filing deadline in the U.S., some readers may relish the fact that a certain three-letter word made it on this list. As for the rest of you, we hope you enjoy all of these charmingly ugly words:


    Smegma
    Phlegm
    Pus
    Pregnant
    Rural
    Moist
    Juror
    Regurgitate
    Crotch
    Bunion
    Pulchritude
    Schmear
    Scab
    Sticktoitiveness
    Discharge
    Blog
    Synergy
    Crepuscular
    Ointment
    Chunk
    Curdle
    Tax
    Fetid
    Routine
    Honk

Did we miss any? If any Beyond Words readers wish to amend the list, feel free to leave a comment! If you need something to clean the ugly away, try The Most Beautiful Words in English.

More Ugly English Words for Language Lovers:

For additional lists, visit these sites:

Wordnik
The Telegraph
Six Things
Writing.com


Original source photo provided by The National Archives and Records Administration

Comments

  1. There seems to be confusion between phonetics and semantics here. When a word means something ugly, it doesn’t mean that it sounds ugly. As for beautiful words, how about “summer” and “dawn.”

  2. I tend to agree towards the fact that ‘pregnant’ is a very ugly word indeed – it sounds way too harsh for what it means, unlike the spanish ’embarazada’ which flows beautifully

  3. Pulchritude is most definitely crunchy. And scab isn’t so bad; it’s short and just right for that crusty, dime-size thing on a kid’s knee.

  4. Anilingus, cunnilingous, fromunda cheese, coitus, copulation, sebum, riming, crabs, flatulence, scabies, pablum, lubrication, oozing, fistula, purulent, secretion . . . Moist!

  5. Me – from India… As around 1979-80on aBus tour to Trivandrum city – Kerala – I happened to be seated next to a British lady – she – the wife of a {Lord} Economist from England [ pardon me for not remembering the name] — When I exclaimed ‘ Oh! the weather so sultry’ – She was so glad ! She told me ‘After ages I am hearing this the goodword !! – When I asked her what went in its place of now – she groaned “Oh! they say ‘sticky’ instead — I feel so uneasy” !!

  6. I truly believe that the “n-word” should be considered number one in the list of the ugliest words in the English language. And this is coming from a white man’s point of view. I find it very disrespectful to a race that’s had to deal with it for years, and should not be said by anyone, no matter what ethnicity you are, no matter how it’s used.

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