Every year since 1976, 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 2016 (and forty-first annual) edition, for your reading enjoyment on this New Year’s Eve:
SO — So the word that received the most nominations this year was already banished, but today it is being used differently than it was in 1999, when nominators were saying, “I am SO down with this list!” Nominations came from across the country.
“Currently, it is being overused as the first word in the answer to ANY question. For instance, “How did you learn to play the piano?” Answer: “So my dad was in a classical music club…” – Bob Forrest, Tempe Ariz.
“Tune in to any news channel and you’ll hear it. The word serves no purpose in the sentence and to me is like fingernails on a chalkboard. So, I submit the extra, meaningless, and overused word ‘so.’” – Scott Shackleton, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
“Politicians, especially, are using this word when asked a question and not answering said question. It is used by all parties in Canada’s Federal election. – Karen Newton, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
“Frequently used to begin a sentence, particularly in response to a question, this tiresome and grammatically incorrect replacement for “Like,” or “Um,” is even more irksome…It hurts my ears, every single time I hear it! – Thomas H. Weiss, Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
“So it’s getting really annoying. So can we please put a stop to this?” – David G. Simpson, Laurel, Md.
“It has become widespread to the point of an epidemic,” said a sickened John from Philadelphia, Penn.
CONVERSATION — Online publications invite us to “join the conversation,” which is usually more of a scream-fest. Gayle from Cedarville, Mich. wonders if “debate has become too harsh for our delicate sensibilities. Now we are all encouraged to have a ‘conversation,’ and everything will somewhat be magically resolved.”
“Over the past five years or so, this word has been increasingly used by talking heads on radio, television and in political circles to describe every form of verbal communication known to mankind. It has replaced ‘discussion,’ ‘debate,’ ‘chat,’ ‘discourse,’ ‘argument,’ ‘lecture,’ ‘talk’….all of which can provide some context to the nature of the communication. Perhaps the users feel that it is a word that is least likely to offend people, but I consider it to be imprecise language that, over time, dumbs down the art of effective discourse.” – Richard Fry, Marathon, Ont.
“Used by every media type without exception. No one listens.” – Richard Seitz, Charleston, Ill.
“Have one, start one, engage in one. Enough.” – Fred Rogers, Houston, Tex.
We are invited to “join the conversation if we want to give an opinion. This expression is overused and it is annoying. Thanks for listening, eh.” – Debbie Irwin, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
PROBLEMATIC — “A corporate-academic weasel word,” according to the Urban Dictionary.
“Somewhere along the line, this word became a trendy replacement for ‘that is a problem.’ I just hate it.” – Sharon Martin, Hagerstown, Md.
“Anything that the speaker finds vaguely inconvenient or undesirable, such as an opposing political belief or bad traffic. Contrast things that are self-evidently taken to be problematic with, say, actual problems like a hole in the ozone layer or a job loss.” – Adam Rosen, Asheville, N.C.
STAKEHOLDER — A word that has expanded from describing someone who may actually have a stake in a situation or problem, now being over-used in business to describe customers and others.
“Often used with ‘engagement.’ If someone is disengaged, they’re not really a stakeholder in the first place. LSSU, please engage your stakeholders by adding this pretentious jargon to your list. – Gwendolyn Barlow, Portland, Ore.
Harley Carter of Calgary, Alberta, says he has heard it with another word popular in business-speak, “socialize,” which means to spread an idea around to see what others think of it. “We need to socialize this concept with our ‘stakeholders.’”
“Dr. Van Helsing should be the only stake holder,” says Jeff Baenen of Minneapolis, Minn.
PRICE POINT — Another example of using two words when one will do.
“This alliterative mutation seems to be replacing the word ‘price’ or ‘cost.’ It may be standard business-speak, but must it contaminate everyday speech?” says Kevin Carney of Chicago, who provided an example in the March 19, 2015 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, pg. 1171, which says, “Although the ‘price point’ of effective new drugs…may initially be out of reach for many patients…”
“It has no ‘point.’ It is just a ‘price.’” – Guy Michael, Cherry Hill, N.J.
SECRET SAUCE — “Usually used in a sentence explaining the ‘secret’ in excruciating public detail. Is this a metaphor for business success based on the fast food industry?” – John Beckett, Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It has become too frequent in business discussions. I am tired of it.” – Bill Evans, Clinton, Miss.
BREAK THE INTERNET — A phrase that is annoying online word-watchers around the world.
“An annoying bit of hyperbole about the latest saucy picture or controversy that is already becoming trite.” – Tim Bednall, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
“Meaning a post or video or whatever will have so much Internet traffic that it will ‘break the internet.’ It’s being used for every headline and video. Ridiculous.” – Matthew Squires, Auburn, Mich.
“I hope the list doesn’t ‘break the internet.’ (How else would I read it next year)?” – Dean Hinrichs, Kansas City, Mo.
WALK IT BACK — A slower back-pedal?
“It seems as if every politician who makes a statement has to ‘walk it back,’ meaning retract the statement, or explain it in laborious detail to the extent that the statement no longer has any validity or meaning once it has been ‘walked back.’” – Max Hill, Killeen, Tex.
PRESSER — This shortened form of “press release” and “press conference” is not so impressive.
“Not only is there no intelligent connection between the word “presser” and its supposed meaning, this word already has a definition: a person or device that removes wrinkles. Let’s either say ‘press conference’ or ‘press release’ or come up with something more original, intelligent and interesting!” – Constance Kelly, West Bloomfield, Mich.
“This industry buzzword has slipped into usage in news reporting and now that they have started, they can’t seem to stop using it.” – Richard W. Varney, Akron, Ohio.
MANSPREADING — A word that is familiar to those in bigger cities, where seats on the bus or subway are sometimes difficult to find.
“Men don’t need another disgusting-sounding word thrown into the vocabulary to describe something they do…You’re just taking too much room on this train seat, be a little more polite…” – Carrie Hansen, Caledonia, Mich.
“The term itself is stupid, and the campaign and petition written by men’s rights activists claiming that men need to take up more space due to their anatomy, and that anti-manspreading campaigns are ‘male-bashing,’ are ridiculous. The problem is with people taking up too much space on the subway or any public mode of transportation. – Beth, Anchorage, Alaska
VAPE — Vape and vaping are used to describe the act of ‘smoking’ e-cigarettes (another strange word) since the products emit vapor instead of smoke.
David Ervin of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., says he hopes the word “goes up in smoke.”
GIVING ME LIFE — The phrase refers to anything that may excite a person, or something that causes one to laugh.
“I suggest banishing this hyperbole for over-use,” says Ana Robbins, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
“This list of banished words is ‘giving me life’!”
PHYSICALITY — We had to include one for the sports fans. John Kollig of Jamestown, N.Y., says this is overused by every sports broadcaster and writer.
“I am not sure who is responsible, but over the last 12-18 months you cannot watch a sporting event, listen to a sports talk show on radio, or anything on ESPN without someone using this term to attempt to describe an athlete or a contest.” – Dan Beitzel, Perrysburg, Ohio
“Every time I hear them say it, I change the channel.” – Brenda Ruffing, Jackson, Mich.
“What the heck does it mean?” – Linda Pardy, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Lists for previous years are available on Lake Superior’s site.
Once again, LSSU has compiled a pretty strong list. We’re very pleased to see physicality included, as we nominated it for banishment here a year ago.
We’d complete this year’s list by adding several more obnoxious phrases that we’d like to see banished for overuse, misuse and general uselessness:
NETFLIX AND CHILL — This phrase had an innocuous meaning when it was first used on social media years ago, but it has since evolved into slang. It means hooking up for sex. It gained its own Urban Dictionary entry this year and has rapidly become tiring. As one Twitter user joked earlier this year: “Y’all guys need to come up with a new mating call, that let’s watch netflix and chill isn’t slick anymore.”
EXPLOSIVE PLAY — Sportswriters and sports announcers have fallen in love with this phrase, especially this past gridiron season. Its use has become incessant. For instance, on Twitter, a couple of days ago, Eliot Shorr-Parks tweeted: “Pat Shurmur says the Eagles have the players to make explosive plays. When asked who, he said all of them.” The word explosive is an adjective that primarily means “to expand with force and noise because of rapid chemical change or decomposition”. It can also mean “to burst forth violently or emotionally”. In the context of American football, when sportscasters are gushing about an explosive play, they’re usually just praising a catch or run that moved a team’s offense downfield, often close to the endzone.
CHIP IN — It seems not a day goes by when we’re not asked to “chip in” to help a candidate, campaign, or organization in an end-of-the-year/quarter/month fundraising email.
All too often, the pitches are vague, neglecting to mention how exactly the requested contributions will be put to use.
For example, only yesterday, MoveOn asked, “Will you chip in to power MoveOn members’ organizing in 2016? Click here if you can.” President Bill Clinton urged Hillary supporters to “chip in $1 before midnight tomorrow” to help her campaign. And two days before that, Organizing For Action made a similar request. “We’re building toward making the most out of next year, so chip in $5 or more today and be part of it”, read an email from OFA’s Sara El-Amine.
The overuse of this phrase sadly shows no sign of abating, so we say it’s time to banish it. Out with chip in!
YUCCIE — A ridiculous, silly made up term coined by David Infante that’s supposed to be short for “Young Urban Creatives”. We hated it from the moment we saw it used on Mashable, and it deserves to be banished before it has a chance to catch on. It’s that awful.
ACTIVE, FLUID SITUATION — Often heard during law enforcement press conferences aired live on network or cable television. This phrase has become boilerplate filler, used to repeatedly ward off requests for information when authorities have yet to finish an investigation into a mass shooting or another developing threat to public safety. According to Oxford, fluid principally means “a substance that has no fixed shape and yields easily to external pressure”. When authorities say a situation is fluid, what they really mean is, “We don’t have everything under control yet.” But they’d rather not say that on camera, it seems.
What words would you like to see banished that aren’t on this year’s list – or the Master List? Let us know in the comments. And Happy New Year!