Yes, there are words that make nearly everyone cringe because they are so loaded with hate and history: racial and cultural insults so offensive that they have their own euphemisms, like the n-word. And lately there have been so many jokes about the misuse of "literally" that I doubt there's anyone left who uses it without knowingly scraping the nails across the blackboard.
But beyond those choice words are a personal list of cringe words. I should pity them because most are perfectly good words, but misuse and overuse have turned them into the aural equivalent of the People of Walmart. Avert your ears:
Factoid. So many people use this to mean "a little fact" that they're not even aware that it is actually the opposite: something untrue that is presented as fact. Ever since I learned this from an ace copy editor, the word's misuse has been grating.
Hero. Jeez, who isn't a hero these days? Are we all so in need of attention that even a basic kind act is called heroic? Related to this is warrior. It's a job description, folks, not necessarily someone more elevated than the rest of us.
Gourmet. Now used as an adjective instead of a noun, the word today describes everything from food truck fare to kitchens to sandwiches that simply substitute arugula for iceberg.
Auteur. Oh, puh-lease!
Real-estate speak. The industry offers us many examples of tired and nonsensical words, "luxury" and "maintenance-free" (ha!) among them. But the one that makes me cringe is villa. Yes, the third definition in my dictionary is "a rented holiday home," but to me a beachfront rental is hardly the country estate of definitions one and two.
Made-up food words. Spam may have been the first, but things really revved up with Pizza Hut's Priazzo in the 1980s. Now we are overrun with Crispitos, Flatizzas and, worst of all, Any'tizers. (Please insert trademark symbols so that I am not sued here.)
Weird. I used to like this word, and when my sister would call me weird I considered it a compliment. But advertising has done it in. Here's one weird tip for making a cringe word: overuse.
Finally, there's a word that shouldn't make me cringe but does: Christian. How it encompasses so many meanings and assumptions, so much baggage and hypocrisy! I am speechless when asked, "Are you a Christian?" I'm never sure if the real question is "Do you go to church?" "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" "Do you behave as Jesus did?" or "Do you belong to my club?" And boy, do I get strange looks when I say, "I can't answer that."
I'm not saying that these cringe words should be banned. (Well, maybe Any'tizer.) It would be nice, though, if we would sometimes think about what words we choose to use.