Banished Words
LSSU's Banished Words List

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 2018 (and forty-third annu­al) edi­tion, for your read­ing enjoy­ment on this New Year’s weekend:

FAKE NEWS – Once upon a time sto­ries could be empir­i­cal­ly dis­proved. Now ‘fake news’ is any sto­ry you dis­agree with.

UNPACK – Mis­used word for ana­lyze, con­sid­er, assess. Con­cepts or posi­tions are not packed, so they don’t need to be unpacked.

TONS – Refers to an exag­ger­at­ed quan­ti­ty, as in tons of sun­shine or tons of work. ‘Lots’ would sure­ly suffice.

DISH – As in to dish out the lat­est rumor on some­one. Let’s go back to ‘talks about’ and leave dish­es in the cupboard.

PRE-OWNED – What is so dis­grace­ful about own­ing a used car now and then?

ONBOARDING / OFFBOARDING – Crea­ture from the HR Lagoon. We used to have hir­ing, train­ing and ori­en­ta­tion. Now we need to have an “onboard­ing” process. Fir­ings, quit­ting, and retire­ments are stream­lined into “off­board­ing.”

NOTHINGBURGER – Says noth­ing that ‘noth­ing’ doesn’t already. I’ll take a quar­ter-pound of some­thing in mine.

LET THAT SINK IN – One could say shock­ing, pro­found, or impor­tant. Let that sink in.

LET ME ASK YOU THIS – Whol­ly unnec­es­sary state­ment. Just ask the ques­tion already.

IMPACTFUL – A friv­o­lous word grop­ing for some­thing ‘effec­tive’ or ‘influ­en­tial.’

COVFETE – An impul­sive typo, born into a 140-char­ac­ter uni­verse, some­how missed by the auto­cor­rect feature.

DRILL DOWN – Instead of expand­ing on a state­ment, we “drill down on it.”

HOT WATER HEATER – Hot water does not need to be heat­ed. ‘Water heater’ or ‘hot water mak­er’ will keep us out of hot water.

GIG ECONOMY – Gigs are for musi­cians and stand-up come­di­ans. Now expand­ed to imply a sense of free­dom and a lifestyle that rejects tra­di­tion in a chang­ing eco­nom­ic cul­ture. Runs a risk of sharecropping.

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

We were among those who nom­i­nat­ed fake news and impact­ful and are very pleased to see them includ­ed by LSSU for 2018. Thanks, selec­tion committee!

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:

ALTERNATIVE FACTS — After Kellyanne Con­way deployed this phrase in a shame­ful, Orwellian effort to defend Sean Spicer’s lies about the size of Don­ald Trump’s inau­gur­al crowds, it entered Amer­i­ca’s polit­i­cal lex­i­con, even gain­ing its own Wikipedia entry. Some right wing com­men­ta­tors have inap­pro­pri­ate­ly attempt­ed to defend what Con­way said by point­ing out that in law, incon­sis­tent sets of facts are some­times plead­ed. While it’s true that this some­times hap­pens in court­rooms, infor­ma­tion that is prov­ably false is not fac­tu­al and can­not be moral­ly or eth­i­cal­ly pre­sent­ed as fac­tu­al. This is why lawyers are barred (pun intend­ed) from engag­ing in con­duct involv­ing dis­hon­esty, fraud, deceit, or mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Let’s stick to just facts going for­ward. False­hoods are not “alter­na­tive facts”, and no mem­ber of the Trump regime should be allowed to get away with claim­ing otherwise.

THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS — The extent of what elect­ed Repub­li­cans offer in response to mass shoot­ings, which are an increas­ing­ly com­mon occur­rence in this coun­try. Thoughts and prayers are a whol­ly inap­pro­pri­ate, insuf­fi­cient response to vio­lent acts. Thoughts and prayers do not pay for the med­ical care of those who sur­vive a bliz­zard of bul­lets or the funer­als of those who are killed. Thoughts and prayers don’t pre­vent the next tragedy. Thoughts and prayers don’t stop peo­ple who should­n’t have access to guns from get­ting their hands on one and ter­ror­iz­ing a community.

It’s per­fect­ly accept­able to pray for the vic­tims of a tragedy, but that should not be the first and last reac­tion from our elect­ed lead­ers when peo­ple use vio­lence to inflict pain, suf­fer­ing, and death on our society.

ZERO SUM GAME — This phrase comes from the domin­ion of game the­o­ry and eco­nom­ic the­o­ry. It means a gain or loss of util­i­ty that is exact­ly bal­anced by the gain or loss of util­i­ty of oth­er par­tic­i­pants. Increas­ing­ly, it’s being used in polit­i­cal con­texts, some­times by peo­ple who seem to have no com­pre­hen­sion of what it actu­al­ly means. It’s time for this phrase to go on an indef­i­nite hia­tus in set­tings where it is like­ly to be mis­used or misunderstood.

HIVE MIND — This phase used to refer to the idea of a col­lec­tive con­scious­ness or shared intel­li­gence, a com­mon motif in sci­ence fic­tion. Nowa­days it is inces­sant­ly used by some peo­ple as a means of pos­ing ques­tions to their friends on Face­book, as in, Hive mind: I’m in Boston for a lay­over. Where should I eat dinner? 

Face­book is not a col­lec­tive con­scious­ness, how­ev­er… it is a for-prof­it adver­tis­ing com­pa­ny that oper­ates a cyber bul­letin board. A sug­ges­tion to users of this phrase: “Hey friends” works much bet­ter as means of address­ing those you wish to ask for advice.

WOKE — Woke is a verb, the sim­ple past tense of wake, but this year its usage as an adjec­tive explod­ed, as in Stay woke or Get woke. Con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists and pro­mul­ga­tors of mis­in­for­ma­tion have also appro­pri­at­ed this word for use in brand­ing their Face­book pages. Sat­ur­day Night Live mem­o­rably par­o­died this cul­tur­al devel­op­ment in the autumn by air­ing a dig­i­tal short adver­tis­ing Lev­i’s WOKES. That par­o­dy nice­ly sums up why this word needs to be banished.

NOT/SHOULDN’T BE A PARTISAN ISSUE — Heard fre­quent­ly on the cam­paign trail. News­flash to can­di­dates, con­sul­tants, and elect­ed offi­cials: Every issue is a par­ti­san issue. That’s what makes it an issue. An issue is com­mon­ly under­stood to be an impor­tant top­ic or prob­lem for debate or dis­cus­sion (Oxford Dic­tio­nar­ies), while is a par­ti­san is any­one who strong­ly sup­ports a par­tic­u­lar cause. Any­one active in pol­i­tics is by nature a par­ti­san, not just those who belong to a polit­i­cal par­ty and call them­selves Democ­rats, Repub­li­cans, Lib­er­tar­i­ans, Greens, and so on. And all issues — even issues dis­cussed and debat­ed in sup­pos­ed­ly “non­par­ti­san” envi­ron­ments — have par­ti­san fissures.

That’s not a bad thing. Let’s stop pre­tend­ing that some issues can or should be above par­ti­san­ship… in a free coun­try that prizes an open exchange of ideas in its pol­i­tics, par­ti­san­ship is to be expected.

Can­di­dates, elect­ed offi­cials: Instead of say­ing x, y, or z should­n’t be a par­ti­san issue, sim­ply say that you believe par­ti­san dis­agree­ments need­n’t be a bar­ri­er to bipar­ti­san coop­er­a­tion that allows us to make mean­ing­ful progress tack­ling an issue.

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!

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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