There are few words as satisfying (to me, anyway) as “execrable” when it’s time to describe the horridness of something. We use its synonyms regularly — awful, horrible, lousy, rotten, terrible, dismal, wretched, crappy, shitty — but “execrable" is the secret weapon, the one you take out when you want a more sophisticated adjective that also conveys disgust. That’s a tough line to walk. Most of those synonyms feel like they come from the gutter. “Execrable” feels both elevated and base at the same time. Up until this very moment, I assumed “execrable” was rooted in “excrement,” shit’s more glamorous cousin. It’s not. Webster says it comes from the Latin verb exsecrari, meaning "to put under a curse.” It’s old: 14th century. Back then, it meant (quoting Merriam-Webster): "'deserving or fit to be execrated,' the reference being to things so abominable as to be worthy of formal denouncement (such as 'execrable crimes'). But in the 19th century we lightened it up a bit, and our 'indescribably bad' sense has since been applied to everything from roads ('execrable London pavement' - Sir Walter Scott) to food ('The coffee in the station house was ... execrable.' - Clarence Day) to, inevitably, the weather ('the execrable weather of the past fortnight' - The (London) Evening Standard).” A friend sent me a colorful email a few days ago that inspired this post, describing the halftime show at the recent Super Bowl:
Maroon 5 was execrable, and I say that as someone with a soft spot for Adam Levine after seeing him in the wonderful Begin Again. The halftime show played like a painful parody, with African American men in gigantic fur coats and bling driving up to the stage in a pimpmobile, looking about as dangerous — or relevant — as the burgers or cola they were hawking. Levine kept doffing layers until he was down to just his tattoos, and I can only imagine millions of people wincing at this embarrassing display.
Good one, Tom. Thanks.