Suggesting sickness with language
I think these little fungi are cut, despite their viscous, oozing, phlegmatic slime.
Can you tell that I’m a bit of a word nerd? I love their history, their etyomology…how canker and cancer come from the same root (makes sense when you think of it…but what does it have to do with crabs?)
While writing A Scarlet Fever, it was a great opportunity to put that to use. I kept a running list of my favourite sickly, icky words that hinted at death and disease.
Now I share those disgusting words with you – I’m generous like that. Enjoy!
Respiratory mucus (yes, mucus makes the list too).
Why is phlegm a gross word? Well, it sounds like that snot-like sputum you expel if your hacking is successful. Or the gurgling sound as it rattles around in you chest.
Strangely neither snot nor sputum made my like, but gurgle did.
Gross + burble = gurgle … any questions?
Gurgle makes me picture a viscous liquid, thick and slimy and noxious.
Hey, viscous also made the list. Misery loves company.
I love how it even sounds thick and gelatinous and sticky and oozy. It’s a bit of pain when you also use the word viscious vicious…always misspelling vicious.
That soft sucking sound of a boot being claimed by the oozing mud. Or a monster treading through the broken bodies of its prey. Say it out loud – it’s a word that sounds viscous.
I told you mucus would make an appearance.
Mucus is something we’re all well familiar with, especially during cold, flu and allergy seasons…oh, wait, that’s the whole year. And you can’t have a list of festering words without this slimy, sickly green secretion…why did secretion not make the list?!
The fleshy, droopy source of gurgling in all sorts of creatures.
I never thought of jowls as gross, but I did a search of words that squick people out (squick should be on here), and jowls made the list, so I added it to mine since I use it almost as much as ‘maw’.
I don’t know how I feel about including it, given that I’m pretty sure I’ll have my own jowls in years to come. Is this a trigger word for anyone out there?
Slurp kind of goes along with squelch for me. It’s the sound of the beast sucking the marrow from its victims’ bones.
It might not seem that icky, but it all depends on context. When I was a kid, someone (probably Dad) taught me his own renditionof the great green gobs song…which I later shared when I taught English in Korea. The key to really making it gross is doing the slurping sound at the end.
To seep in a slow and, often, unappealing way.
Although I admit that sometimes chocolate oozes out of a lava cake, more often I use ooze with a negative connotation. It reminds me of walking in this little river in the mountains of BC when I was a child, the muck squelching up from the bottom, bringing with it little burps of tadpoles between my toes. Or some slick salesman oozing charm, rather than sincerity and respect for my intelligence.
To become septic, form pus, deteriorate and be eaten away.
Fester brings to mind the putrefaction of a rotten wound being gnawed away, seeping with pus. Sometimes you just don’t want to use all of those words, and wish you had one simple word to … and then there’s fester. No list on the language of pestilence would be complete without this jack-of-all-trades word.
Yes, moist was on the list. For some reason, it always seems to top the list of English words that make people’s skin crawl. However, I used dank much more often in the book — it fit the tone better.
There are words that mean almost the same thing as moist that we don’t have the same issue with — dewy, misty, damp, humid. Even dank.
What about you…
What words squick you right out, make your skin crawl, make you shudder? Or are there words you love to use to get that reaction from others?
Links in this post (other than to A Scarlet Fever) are to The History of English podcast website and the wonderful Online Etymology Dictionary. I love tracing words back to Proto Indo-European.
Oh, and let me know if you have any books on language and the history of words that you recommend.
The best version of great green gobs:
Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts / mutilated monkey meat / dirty little birdies feet / French fried eyeballs floating in a pool of blood / and I forgot my spoon / but I brought a straw…slurp