Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Banished Words for 2012

Every year since 1971, Michigan’s Lake Superior State University has released a thoughtful and humorous “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness”. Here is the 2012 (and thirty-seventh annual) edition, for your reading enjoyment on this New Year’s Day:

AMAZING — Received the most nominations. LSSU was surprised at the number of nominations this year for “amazing” and surprised to find that it hadn’t been included on the list in the past. Many nominators mentioned over-use on television when they sent their entries, mentioning “reality” TV, Martha Stewart and Anderson Cooper. It seemed to bother people everywhere, as nominations were sent from around the U.S. and Canada and some from overseas, including Israel, England and Scotland. A Facebook page – “Overuse of the Word Amazing” – threatened to change its title to “Occupy LSSU” if ‘amazing’ escaped banishment this year…

“It’s amazing that you haven’t added that word to your list over the years. Totally, absolutely, really amazing. Not quite astounding, but still amazing.” – Charles Attardi, Astoria, NY

“Although I am extremely happy to no longer hear the word ‘awesome’ used incorrectly and way too often, it appears to me it is quickly being replaced with ‘amazing.’ Pay attention and you will no doubt be amazingly surprised to find that I am right.” – Gregory Scott, Palm Springs, Calif.

“People use ‘amazing’ for anything that is nice or heartwarming. In other words, for things that are not amazing.” – Gitel Hesselberg, Haifa, Israel

“Every talk show uses this word at least two times every five minutes. Hair is not ‘amazing.’ Shoes are not ‘amazing.’ There are any number of adjectives that are far more descriptive. I saw Martha Stewart use the word ‘amazing’ six times in the first five minutes of her television show. Help!” – Martha Waszak, Lansing, Mich.

“Banish it for blatant overuse and incorrect use…to stop my head from exploding.” – Paul Crutchfield, Norwich, Norfolk, UK

“The word which once aptly described the process of birth is now used to describe such trivial things as toast, or the color of a shirt.” JP, Comox, British Columbia, Canada

“Anderson Cooper used it three times recently in the opening 45 seconds of his program. My teeth grate, my hackles rise and even my dog is getting annoyed at this senseless overuse. I don’t even like ‘Amazing Grace’ anymore.” – Sarah Howley, Kalamazoo, Michigan

“The word has been overused to describe things only slightly better than mundane. I blame Martha Stewart because to her, EVERYTHING is amazing! It has lost its ‘wow factor’ and has reached ‘epic’ proportions of use. It’s gone ‘viral,’ I say! ‘I’m just sayin’!’ – Alyce-Mae Alexander, Maitland, Florida

BABY BUMP — Although nominated by many over the years, this phrase came in as a close second to “amazing” this year.

“This is a phrase we need to finally give birth to, then send on its way.” – Mary Sturgeon, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

“I’m tired of a pregnancy being reduced to a celebrity accessory. Or worse, when less-than-six-pack abs are suspected of being one.” – Afton, Portland, Oregon

“I am so sick of that phrase! It makes pregnancy sound like some fun and in-style thing to do, not a serious choice made by (at the very least) the woman carrying the child.” – Susan, Takoma Park, Maryland

“Why can’t we just use the old tried-and-true ‘pregnant?’ I never heard anyone complain about that description.” – Eric, Poca, West Virginia.

SHARED SACRIFICE — “Usually used by a politician who wants other people to share in the sacrifice so he/she doesn’t have to.” – Scott Urbanowski, Kentwood, Michigan

OCCUPY — “‘Occupy Wall Street’ grew to become Occupy ‘insert name of your city here’ all over the country. It should be banished because of the media overuse and now people use it all the time, i.e. ‘I guess we will occupy your office and have the meeting there.’ ‘We are headed to Grandma’s house – Occupy Thanksgiving is under way.” – Bill Drewes, Rochester Hills, Michigan

“It has been overused and abused even to promote Black Friday shopping.” – Grant Barnett, Palmdale, California

“Why couldn’t they have used a more palatable kind, like pecan or peach?” – Bob Forrest, Tempe, Arizona

BLOWBACK — Sometimes exchanged with “pushback” to mean resistance.

“‘Blowback’ is used by corporate (types) to mean ‘reaction,’ when the word ‘reaction’ would have been more than sufficient. Example: ‘If we send out the press release, how should we handle the blowback from the community?’” – John, Los Angeles, California

MAN CAVE — “Overused by television home design and home buying shows, has trickled down to sitcoms, commercials, and now has to be endured during interactions with real estate people, neighbors and co-workers.” – Jim, Flagstaff, Arizona

“It is not just over-used, it is offensive to we males who do not wish to hunker (another awful word, often misused) down in a room filled with stuffed animal heads, an unnecessarily large flat-screen TV and Hooters memorabilia. Not every man wants a recliner the size of a 1941 Packard that has a cooler in each arm and a holster for the remote. So please, assign ‘man cave’ to the lexicographic scrap heap where it so rightly belongs.” – David Hollis, Hubbardsville, New York

THE NEW NORMAL — “The phrase is often used to justify bad trends in society and to convince people that they are powerless to slow or to reverse those trends. This serves to reduce participation in the political process and to foster cynicism about the ability of government to improve people’s lives. Sometimes the phrase is applied to the erosion of civil liberties. More often, it is used to describe the sorry state of the U.S. economy. Often hosts on TV news channels use the phrase shortly before introducing some self-help guru who gives glib advice to the unemployed and other people having financial difficulties.” – Robert Brown, Raleigh, North Carolina

PET PARENT — “Can a human being truly be a parent to a different species? Do pet ‘owners’ not love their pets as much pet ‘parents’ do? Are we equating pet ownership with slave holding? This cloyingly correct term is capable of raising my blood sugar.” – Lynn Ouellette, Buffalo, New York

WIN THE FUTURE — A political phrase worn wherever you look – to the left (President Obama) or the right (Newt Gingrich).

“On its very face, it’s an empty, meaningless phrase. It basically says that anyone who opposes anything meant to ‘win the future’ must want to ‘lose the future,’ which is highly unlikely. But, hey, you may already be a winner.”  – Jim Eisenmann, Madison, Wisconsin

TRICKERATION — “Why? Why? Why? This one seems to be the flavor du jour for football analysts. What’s wrong with ‘trick’ or ‘trickery?’ No doubt, next year’s model will be ‘trickerationism.’”-  Gene Bering, Seminole, Texas

“A made-up word used by football analysts to describe a trick play. Sounds unintelligent. Perhaps they’ve had a few too many concussions in the football world to notice.” – Carrie Hansen, Grayling, Michigan

GINORMOUS — “No need to make a gigantic (idiot) out of yourself trying to find an enormous word for ‘big.’” – Coulombe, Sanford, Florida

“This combination of gigantic and enormous makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck every time I hear it. Each utterance reminds me of the high school drop-out that first used this offensive word in my presence.” – Gina Bua, Vancouver, Washington

“This word is just a made-up combination of two words. Either word is sufficient, but the combination just sounds ridiculous.” – Jason, Andover, Maine

THANK YOU IN ADVANCE — “Usually followed by ‘for your cooperation,’ this is a condescending and challenging way to say, ‘Since I already thanked you, you have to do this.’” – Mike Cloran, Cincinnati, Ohio

Lists for previous years are available on Lake Superior’s site.

We’d complete the list above by adding several more obnoxious phrases that we’d like to see banished for misuse and general uselessness:

GURU — This word, which originates from Hindi, is supposed to mean spiritual guide or leader with great intellect.  But these days, it’s being misused by the media to refer to people who are prolific at something in particular. For instance, Apple’s Jony Ives has been labeled “design guru”, Harley Pasternak has been called “star diet guru” and the Associated Press likes to call Tim Eyman “initiative guru”. Enough already! None of these people are gurus. Time to banish this word.

SOME WOULD SAY and SOME SAY — This Foxism, which comes in multiple flavors (all comprised of weasel words), has been in use for more than a decade on the Republican Party’s official cable news network, headed by Roger Ailes. It is a phony journalist’s best friend. Consider this example from December 2nd, uttered by Gretchen Carlson: “Some would say that it’s the unions that have crippled the U.S. economy and led to the United States’ debt.” The baseless innuendo symbolized by “some would say” exemplifies everything that’s wrong with corporate media today.

JOB CREATOR — Yet another phrase cooked up in the Frank Luntz language kitchen. It has become the right wing’s preferred way of talking about the super rich, who already have their fortunes made and  may no longer even work for a living. “You don’t create jobs by making life difficult for job creators,” Luntz says in his newest book, published in mid-2011. Republican members of Congress have been using this line almost verbatim all year long on Sunday talk shows and op-eds, despite there being no credible evidence that tax cuts for the wealthy lead to increased private sector hiring.

TWO-THIRDS MAJORITY — An unhelpful oxymoron. A two-thirds vote may be a supermajority, but it’s not a majority, just as a submajority is not a majority. Majority, majority vote and majority rule mean fifty percent plus one. No more, no less.

LET ME BE PERFECTLY CLEAR —  Heard frequently in speeches by Barack Obama (and other politicians), this is a longer, more redundant version of “Let me be clear”, which is itself filler in the tradition of “Make no mistake about it” (banished in 2003). We’d like to see a break from this one for a while.

OFFER ONLY AVAILABLE FOR A LIMITED TIME — Often prefaced with the word hurry. As in, hurry up and buy this thingamajig so we can sell you something else with our next holiday sale.

INCENTIVIZE — Another invented buzzword that has outlived its usefulness. Nominated by a reader in the comment thread of last year’s post about the Banished Words List.

This year’s list from LSSU is pretty strong. We especially applaud the inclusion of “the new normal”, a phrase we’ve come to abhor. “Man cave” is also more than worthy of banishment… as is “win the future”, which lacks conviction and implies that out-competing other countries and peoples is the key to prosperity, rather than cooperation. We need to escape from the dichotomy of winning and losing.

As the United Nations’ endless climate talks have demonstrated, seemingly intractable problems that affect all of humanity will simply remain intractable as long as we are stuck in a mindset of competition rather than cooperation. Here’s hoping that we begin to get unstuck in 2012.

Happy New Year!

3 Comments

  1. Dan Ballard
    Posted January 2nd, 2012 at 2:02 AM | Permalink

    Thank you for calling out “job creators,” a purely deceitful usage. You are just simply wrong, however, about two-thirds majority: 2/3 IS a majority, as are 99/100 and 73/87. It IS over-used and trite, but it is NOT incorrect. 50%-plus-one is the MINIMUM for a majority, but the maximum is 100%. (And not 110%, toward which our ire would be better directed.)

  2. Andrew
    Posted January 2nd, 2012 at 4:59 AM | Permalink

    Dan, just because many dictionaries define majority as any number larger than half of the total doesn’t mean we can’t banish “two thirds majority”.

    Legally, how majority is defined has consequences. Article II, Section 22 of the Washington State Constitution says that bills shall pass by majority vote. If majority, and majority vote, mean something other than fifty percent plus one, it opens the door for people like Tim Eyman to come along and start changing the rules… which is extremely problematic. If the standard for passage of legislation is changed to, say, two thirds, it means a minority – one third – has control over the outcome. When seventeen state senators can block the will of thirty two of their colleagues, that’s not democracy. That’s not majority rule. That’s minority rule.

    Our founding fathers knew this, and two of them – Alexander Hamilton and James Madison – wrote about the meaning of majority in The Federalist Papers. Quoting from Federalist No. 22:

    [W]hat at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison. To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser. Congress, from the nonattendance of a few States, have been frequently in the situation of a Polish diet, where a single VOTE has been sufficient to put a stop to all their movements.

    Ironically, the current rules of the U.S. Senate do give a minority a negative upon the majority. However, those rules are simply internal operating procedures. The Constitution does not provide for the filibuster; nor does it provide for holds or other delaying tactics that are used to slow down business in the Senate.

    It makes sense to interpret majority as equivalent to fifty percent plus one. No more, no less. As the Supreme Court of Alaska reasoned in AFEG v. State of Alaska:

    AFEG [Alaskans for Efficient Government] insists that the negative phrasing of Section 14’s majority-vote clause — “[n]o bill may become law without an affirmative vote of a majority” — should be read as signaling the framers’ intent to set a floor, not a ceiling: to require at least a majority vote while allowing laws imposing stricter requirements. If the framers had intended to require no more than a majority vote, AFEG contends, they would have drafted the clause to read: “Any bill may be enacted by an affirmative vote of the majority of the membership of each house.”

    But as the state correctly observes, other courts interpreting constitutional language have wisely refrained from attributing any automatic significance to the distinction between negative and positive phrasing. Here, for example, had the framers said “any bill” rather than “no bill,” AFEG’s logic would just as readily compel the anomalous conclusion that section 14 was meant to set a ceiling but not a floor — that a majority vote would be the maximum needed to enact any bill, but the legislature would remain free to specify a sub-majority vote as sufficient to enact laws dealing with specified subjects, as it saw fit.

    If a two-thirds… or three fourths…. or nine-tenths vote is required for some action to be taken, it means the minority is always in control of the outcome. Not the majority. That’s why the phrase “two thirds majority” should be banished. It is an oxymoron. For our democracy to work, we need majority to mean fifty percent plus one. No more, no less. Otherwise, we run the risk of having our legislative bodies end up like the ancient Polish diet: unable to take any action because one legislator has some objection.

  3. bluesky
    Posted January 2nd, 2012 at 8:32 AM | Permalink

    Going forward. we are going to have more people doing the work in the field.” GAH!!! That one drives me nuts.

    Also, too, “impactful.” GAH@!!

    Ugh. Working in any bureaucratic institution, whether gummint or private, one is usually on the “leading edge” of hearing craptalk like this. Makes my brain hurt.