For the eighth year in a row, it appears that those polled, and those who cared enough to answer, agreed: Whatever is the most annoying word. Ever.
In a telephone survey of more than 1,000 adult Americans conducted by the Marist Poll, just over 38 percent of those surveyed want people who abuse the word whatever to know that their use of the word is categorically annoying. Other contenders in the list of annoying words and phrases included “I can’t even,” “huge,” and “no offense, but…,” among others.
The official meaning of whatever doesn’t do justice to its typical, and presumably annoying, use. Merriam-Webster defines whatever as “anything or everything that…” or “no matter what.” In those particular cases, whatever should strike no ire or annoyance. It’s actually quite useful, allowing for the existence of a number of situations, preferences, perspectives, and circumstances, e.g., “Whatever you do, don’t sit on a tack.”
But it’s the most typical abuse of whatever that qualifies it as not only an annoying word but also one that should inspire dire consequences for repeat offenders. Consulting the Urban Dictionary for its top three most popular — and therefore most relevant — definitions:
“Used in an argument to admit that you are wrong without admitting it so the argument is over.” (14,000 up votes)
“Indifference to what a person is saying! Who cares!; Get a Life!” (5,000 up votes)
“Uttered in a derisive and dismissive tone, in response to a confrontation or accusation which has been judged to be unimpressive, obnoxious, or disingenuous. Often used to dismiss someone when it is clear that rational discussion would be a waste of time and energy.” (1,000 up votes)
In other words, whatever is most often used for dismissive, passive-aggressive, and noncommittal purposes — all things a civilized society, household, or conversation should disavow without hesitation.
Unfortunately, things don’t look good for those who hate whatever. The Marist Poll has found that annoyance of the word is trending downward. Last year’s poll found that 43 percent disapproved cersus the 38 percent this year, which will only embolden rampant whatever warriors to continue to verbally shrug in your face. And even if usage of the word were to decrease, it’s unlikely people would stop using the shrug emoji for the same effect.