'Whatever' so totally tops most annoying word poll
Thursday, October 8, 2009
So, you know, it is what it is, but Americans are totally annoyed by the use of "whatever" in conversations.
The popular slacker term of indifference was found "most annoying in conversation" by 47 percent of Americans surveyed in a Marist College poll released Wednesday.
"Whatever" easily beat out "you know," which especially grated a quarter of respondents. The other annoying contenders were "anyway" (at 7 percent), "it is what it is" (11 percent) and "at the end of the day" (2 percent).
"Whatever" -- pronounced "WHAT'-ehv-errr" when exasperated -- is an expression with staying power. Immortalized in song by Nirvana ("oh well, whatever, nevermind") in 1991, popularized by the Valley girls in "Clueless" later that decade, it is still commonly used, often by younger people.
It can be an all-purpose argument-ender or a signal of apathy. And it can really be annoying. The poll found "whatever" to be consistently disliked by Americans regardless of their race, gender, age, income or where they live.
"It doesn't surprise me because 'whatever' is in a special class, probably," said Michael Adams, author of "Slang: The People's Poetry" and an associate professor of English at Indiana University. "It's a word that -- and it depends how a speaker uses it -- can suggest dismissiveness."
Adams, who was not involved in the poll and is not annoyed by "whatever," pointed out that its use is not always negative. It also can be used in place of other, neutral phrases that have fallen out of favor, like "six of one, half dozen of the other," he said.
But the negative connotation might explain why "whatever" was judged more annoying than the ever-popular "you know," which was recently given a public workout by Caroline Kennedy during her flirtation with the New York U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton. "You know," Adams said, is a way for speakers to seek assent from others.
Pollsters at the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., college surveyed 938 U.S. adults by telephone Aug. 3 through Aug 6. The margin of error is 3.2 percentage points. The five choices included were chosen by people at the poll discussing what popular words and phrases might be considered especially annoying, said spokeswoman Mary Azzoli.