THE BLOG
07/29/2013 10:32 am ET Updated Sep 28, 2013

Has 'Cringeworthy' Become Cringeworthy?

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Anthony Weiner had a lousy day last Tuesday, but the word cringeworthy did not. For cringeworthy, it was a bonanza.

On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough said "Anthony Weiner broke new grounds in cringeworthy."

The Business Insider headline shouted: "ANTHONY WEINER ANNOUNCES HE'S STAYING IN RACE AT CRINGEWORTHY NEWS CONFERENCE."

And Politico: "A cringe-worthy moment... that has tested Gotham's gag reflex."

So obviously, cringeworthy owes Anthony Weiner a debt of gratitude. But not only Weiner. You can't go more than a day without hearing or reading about somebody doing something cringeworthy. Paula Deen's slurs, Geraldo Rivera's topless pics -- if you want to have a little fun, just Google "cringeworthy" plus any celebrity name and see what you get.

It all made me think: When did everything get so cringeworthy? Certainly, when I was a kid, there were plenty of things that were cringeworthy -- like the time I got my driver's license and borrowed my parents' car to pick up Lisa Kahn, only to find her making out with a tall senior named Matt on her front stoop -- but we didn't call it cringeworthy. We just died a little inside.

Turns out the word is relatively new -- in 1972, a character named Cuthbert Cringeworthy first appeared in the British comic strip The Bash Street Kids (thanks wordsmith.org.) Before that, nothing was cringeworthy. I assume it became popular in England, and then it made its way here, like hot puddings andThe X Factor.

Today, cringeworthy is used to describe everything: people, events, the hot pink leggings of the woman in the cubicle next to yours. Reddit.com has a whole section where people submit cringeworthy videos.

Popular words and phrases come and go. Last summer, every time I would ask somebody a question, they would answer a quick, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Three yeahs, all the time. For a brief moment, nobody answered you with just one "yeah."

There must be other words we can use to describe a totally embarrassing, shameful, messy, sloppy, 10-car-pile-up of a person, place, or thing. For now, cringeworthy is it. May it have a long and healthy usage.

Bonanza, by the way, has been around since 1835.

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