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 big 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!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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3 replies on “Banished Words for 2012”

  1. Thank you for call­ing out “job cre­ators,” a pure­ly deceit­ful usage. You are just sim­ply wrong, how­ev­er, about two-thirds major­i­ty: 23 IS a major­i­ty, as are 99100 and 7387. 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.)

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

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