What's the worst word in the English language?
I don't mean the least pleasant word (genocide?), or the silliest sounding (squiggle?), or the longest and most complicated to pronounce (German has English beat in those, anyways).
No, I mean, what word is the least suitable for doing its own job in the language?
I figure, it's gotta be a verb we use commonly that we don't have any substitutes for. If you've got a crummy noun, it's easy to mash a couple other nouns together and maybe throw in an adjective to find a fixer. So if you think "net worth" is a dumb concept, you can easily amend it to "liquid net worth" or "cash" or "wealth" or whatever you want, however you want to define it. It's easy to create replacements for flawed nouns.
It's gotta be a verb.
On that topic, a lot of smart people think the worst word in English is the verb "to be" -- y'know, "is", "was", "am", and so on.
There's a whole school of thought that wants to eliminate "to be" from English --
Some scholars advocate using E-Prime as a device to clarify thinking and strengthen writing. For example, the sentence "the film was good" could not be expressed under the rules of E-Prime, and the speaker might instead say "I liked the film" or "the film made me laugh".
I agree, in theory. I still don't do it in practice, usually. It's hard to re-write your thinking.
(<--- Note the contraction. It is hard to re-write your thinking... there it is, the darned "to be.")
But y'know, I think just reading the entry on E-Prime is somewhat like getting vaccinated against sloppy "to be" usage. You'll still do it, but you'll at least be able to catch it.
No, I don't think "to be" is the worst word in English. It's a hack and it's a rough word, but it's often useful and we can navigate the downside.
So what's the worst word? What's doing the most damage to clear thinking, that shows very little chance of improving, that we can't easily substitute anything in its place?
For my money, "want" is probably the worst word in the English language in 2016.
Looking up the etymology, the origins of the word "want" started around 700 years ago.
Originally, it just meant roughly "didn't have something important" -- "they wanted for provisions."
But nowadays, the word encompasses two somewhat related, but very dangerous points.
Coworker: "How's it going with the work?"
You: "I hate it. I want to get out of here and go lay on the beach."
And then there's the more declaring and choosing sort of want:
Employee at pizza place: "What you want?"
You: "Yeah, I want two cheese pieces, breadsticks, and two Greek salads."
These two usages of want are really similar on the surface... and yet, I think they're really dangerous to mix up.
And people do mix them up. A lot.
You can see how the origin of "want" creeped into modern language. "Want" was a lack of something that you... well, wanted. If you "wanted for food" you might be immediately on the way to the market to buy some, or you might be praying for relief from the famine.
The modern word "want" makes no distinction between these types of wanting.
This would be fine, if we were aware of it.
But many people aren't.
They mix up their declaring-and-choosing-wants with their fantasizing-wants.
"I want to be a millionaire" and "I want to get my personal finance system set up by the end of the week."
"I want to get in shape" and "I want to get to the gym ASAP but I need to finish this work first... I'm going either way, but I hope I can get in there before it starts getting full."
Astute readers might note that the the former examples have no time involved and the latter examples do have a time period attached to them.
That's true. It probably helps. But I don't think it's the heart of the issue.
Rather, I think we're missing a word in English for "I have assessed the cost, fully and firmly committed to paying it, and am now in the process of paying the cost."
The synonym "fantasize" for want is an easy way to understand one usage of the word, but there's no elegant word to replace the more important version of "want" and separate it from fantasy.
What are the alternatives? "Commit" and "decide" both, in theory, could be good words... but we see these words get abused all the time. A lot of commitments and decisions get broken, and "I want X and I've committed to get it" is a stronger statement than "I want X" but still might be fantasy.
What would the ideal replacement word be?
I think we'd want a new word that emphasizes agreeing to pay the cost as opposed to deciding to get the goal.
Anybody can declare they want something, even declare they're going to get it, but accurately sizing up the cost and agreeing to pay the cost is a much less whimsical thing. You still might be assessing the cost wrong or be unable to follow through on your plans, but you're at least in the right neighborhood.
It's then easy to check up on someone who goes that way.
You: "You still want to get rich?"
Friend: "Yeah, I do."
You: "You still paying the costs of getting rich, earning and saving and budgeting?"
Friend: "Well, no, I've been prioritizing this other thing..."
The "want" gets eliminated, and the focus is on surmounting the costs via behavior.
I don't have a great word for this. My best first attempt to replace "want" with a word would be "cost-acquiesce"... but I rather doubt it would get uptake.
Nevertheless, dear reader -- please ensure you separate out your fantasizing from your acquiescing to pay costs to get things!
Nice article. I enjoyed reading the E' wiki article per your suggestion.
I replace "want" with "expect" much as you described. (Although "I expect to put away $1000 this month" or "I expect finish work done by the end of the week"
is sounds to me less jarring than "I expect the fettuccine alfredo and a glass of beer").
"Life is suffering," said Buddha. His plan? Release your attachments to this world and end your suffering.
I'm not with Buddha on this one. Give me strife and suffering. And once I have grown stronger, tempered, hardened by the strife, give me MORE.
Life is strife, suffering, struggle. Your body and mind are kept alive by a series of violent chemical reactions, your heartbeat, the acid in your stomach, the cells constantly breaking apart and dying as new ones are created, the battle towards homeostatis with different bacteria and cells combating each other, all inside your body.
Your mind - your thoughts - may come into conflict, especially when you're trying to do meaningful things. It's easy to feel the pull of distraction and ease, and to choke up and pause in fear when you look at the mountain you're set to climb. The mind is not in harmony, especially at the beginning. Struggle, strife, conflict, suffering.
I say - give it to me! But not so fast that it will break me. I must be pragmatic. We must be pragmatic. We have our limits. We can expand them over time. It's not brave to go into the gym for the first time and try to lift 400 pounds. It's foolhardy, unrealistic, stupid. Being pragmatic, aware of our limits takes its own sort of courage.
I logged into my stock account the other day and realized that contrary to my previous claim/strategy of investing solely in Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, I had no Berkshire shares left. Time for an update, I reckon.
So what happened? Nothing against Berkshire, for sure. I sold almost all of my shares at a profit, and I still have full faith in the company. But sometimes opportunities come along that are too good to pass up, two of which I'm currently invested in.