'Whatever' America's Most Annoying Word, Poll Says

Dennis Faas's picture

It means apathy and to a generation of Americans growing up in the grunge era when fashion wasn't so much a statement as it was a hassle, "whatever" has become a very popular word. According to a new poll, it's also the most annoying term any of us could possibly use.

In a poll conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, the word "whatever" received 47 per cent, almost half, of the total votes when subjects were asked to choose from a list of the most annoying popular phrases. It beat out equally ambiguous phrases "you know" and "it is what it is," which placed second and third, respectively.

Whatever: The Gift of Grunge Rockers, Valley Girls

Etymologists, or experts on the history of words, trace "whatever" back to the early 1990s, when Seattle alternative rockers Nirvana used it in their incredibly popular grunge anthem, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Experts believe it picked up steam when used, just about to death, by the movie "Clueless," starring Alicia Silverstone as a vapid rich girl obsessed with appearances, popularity and high school life. "Whatever" embodied the attitude that passionate, intense thought was less important than serenity, freedom, and image.

Word expert Michael Adams, author of Slang: The People's Poetry, argues that "whatever" is "in a special class," and though it appears to denote laziness can actually indicate the speaker's sense of superiority to the subject at hand. "It's a word that -- and it depends how a speaker uses it -- can suggest dismissiveness," Adams says. (Source: afterdawn.com)

Poll Limited to the "Dismissive"

However, it's hard to say "whatever" is, definitively, the most annoying word currently used by English-speaking people. The poll, which used 938 exclusively American subjects, focused only on words the researchers considered "dismissive."

Surprisingly, it's "you know," which placed second, that has been the more relevant annoying phrase in recent memory. A year ago, when Caroline Kennedy was being considered for a U.S. Senate seat vacated by present-day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the former was mocked by the media for using the phrase a reported 142 times in an interview with the New York Times. (Source: cnn.com)

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