Why do words irritate us so much?

Like… its SO… Whateverrrr! Lately I’ve heard a lot of discussion on various radio programmes about words and phrases that irritate people – no matter what the word or phrase, you can be sure it bothers someone.

This may be because the words can be perceived as offensive, such as swear words, insults, blatant untruths, or racial slurs – so adverse responses are perhaps to be expected. But often it is just because we believe the word is being overused or misused, and then we choose to be irritated by it.

One lady complained about hearing the word “kids” used instead of “children” – she said that she always pictures baby goats, so that’s her personal interpretation. But those associations probably come from how she learned the word, perhaps having seen baby goats in real life or pictures – it’s just how our brains are wired.

Other phrases which people cite as irritating include corporate speak such as “paradigm shift”, “run it up the flagpole”, “think outside the box” – and I’m sure you probably have your own list of offenders!

Those I find annoying include “fell pregnant” – does this suggest that being pregnant is a bad thing, like “fell ill”? I am also somewhat averse to the use of the word “accessible” to describe various arts, even though I can’t think of a good alternative, so it’ll have to do. Another one I often notice is something like “The Ireland team are travelling to New Zealand”, whereas I believe it is grammatically more correct to say “The team is…” because a team is singular (though made up of a number of people). It’s just my belief, though, because that’s what I was taught – but language is constantly evolving and most rules are really just current conventions, as opposed to laws and statutes! Also “the wife” as opposed to “my wife”…. the first sounds more like an inanimate object… the list goes on!

I also wonder whether we are annoyed because we feel many of the phrases we dislike were “not invented here” , because by watching global media like tv and internet, our use of the English language has evolved and itself become globalised. Sometimes its not even the word or phrase, but the accent or pronunciation that sets us off!

Maybe it’s just part of our human nature to look for any reason, no matter how trivial, to belittle other people in order to make ourselves feel more superior. However, if we believe that we are free to communicate with others in whatever way we choose, then we should afford other people the same freedom. The words people use are just the medium to convey the intent behind them, so we really need to listen actively and be present to make sure that we understand what the real message is without getting hung up on the words.

So the next time we hear a word that usually sets our teeth on edge – maybe we can focus more on the message more than the medium, and see what we might learn!

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