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Banished Words for 2018

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!


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