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 2020 (and forty-fifth annual) edition, for your reading enjoyment on this New Year’s Day:
The Most Nominated Word or Phrase for 2020
QUID PRO QUO — This phrase received the most nominations this year, with a noticeable spike in November (gee, we wonder why…). The popularity of this phrase has the committee wondering what it should offer in exchange for next year’s nominations.
Mary Bilyeu, Toledo, OH; Deborah Rempala, Saint Clair Shores, MI; Julie Janiskee, Petoskey, MI; Deanna, Sault Ste Marie, MI; Jeff Lewis, Ada, MI; Lisa K Farrell, Los Angeles, CA; Tana Baldwin, Petoskey , MI; Trudy Salo, Liberty Twp, OH; Tom Reilly, Bloomfield Twp, MI; Jeff Malcolm, Paw Paw, MI; Daniel Muldoon, Council Bluffs, IA; Kate TerHaar, Cedarville, MI; Mary J., Houston, TX; Lori Moore, Kalamazoo, MI; Steve Carr, Marquette, MI; R. Osinski, Clinton Twp., MI; Dan Berardi, Arnprior, Ontario, Canada.
Words that Attempt to Make Something More than It Is
ARTISANAL — One nominator described this word as an “obfuscation,” describing an “actual person doing something personal for another unknown person.” The committee agrees this word should be banned for well water… but not for sandwiches.
Nkenge Zola, Highland Park, MI; Bill McCune, Petoskey, MI
CURATED — Like “artisanal,” this seems to be another attempt at making something more than it is, especially when used in reference to social media (or Banished Words Lists). As Barb from Ann Arbor says, “Save it for the museum.”
Barb, Ann Arbor, MI; Nkenge Zola, Highland Park, MI; Jerry Purdy, Portage, MI; and Samurel Press, Burlington, VT
[“Curated” was previously banished in 2015; apparently the selection committee didn’t double check before it published this year’s list…]
INFLUENCER — According to Urban Dictionary, “A word Instagram users use to describe themselves to make them feel famous and more important when no one really know who they are or care.”
Sylvia Gurinsky, Davie, FL; Jeff Lewis, Ada, MI; Paul Bartunek, Los Angeles, CA; Jacqueline Reardon, Burlington, NJ; diva_angel360
Words Banished for Pretentiousness or Imprecision
LITERALLY — Surprisingly, this word hasn’t already been banished, but here it is, one of the few words in English that has begun to serve as its own antonym. Many of the nominators cite this word’s use for figurative expressions or emphasis, which is literally annoying.
Edward, Glendale, AZ; Ryan Chenier, Grand Rapids, MI; Daniel Kirk, San Luis Obispo, CA; Dale Martin, Novi, MI; Jack Pollard, Haslett, MI; Gary Wenger, Delta, BC, Canada; Christy Borthick, Nashville, TN; Pamela Naylor, Dover, DE; Jamie Rankin, Connellsville, PA; Margaret, Los Angeles, CA; and Jennifer W Berlin, Anthem, AZ
I MEAN — It’s easy to see why this phrase was nominated, right? I mean…
John Leask, Alpena, MI
LIVING MY BEST LIFE — The committee very much enjoys exercising its authority in banishing words annually–literally the capstone of our year–but as Eric says, apart from reincarnation, are there “options for multiple lives”?
Gary Wheelock, Wixom, MI; Eric Park, Rock Hill, SC
MOUTHFEEL — A word used by foodies to describe the texture of food or drink in the mouth, which the committee feels should be banished entirely from food reality TV shows. As our nominator asks, “Where else, exactly, would you like to touch your food or beverage?” This one just doesn’t feel right in the mouth.
Jodi Miller, Gahanna, OH
Those Darn Millennials!
CHIRP — This one is a new insult for the non-millennials on the committee. Before we get chirped for being out of touch, as our nominator suggests, why don’t we leave it to the birds?
Abigail Ostman, Sault Ste Marie, MI
JELLY — An abbreviation of “jealous,” the committee agrees with the nominator of this word who suggested that it’s better left for toast.
Mike Bassarab, Kalamazoo, MI
TOTES — Another abbreviation, this time of “totally.” Totes overused.
Samantha Stuart, Walker, MI
VIBE/VIBE CHECK — A new use of the sixties term, “good vibes.” This one just doesn’t vibe with us anymore, unless the speaker is actually vibrating.
Leah Mockridge, Sault Ste Marie, MI and Carissa, Sault Ste Marie, MI
OK, BOOMER — This phrase caught on late this year on the Internet as a response from millennials to the older generation. Boomers may remember, however, that generational tension is always present. In fact, it was the Boomers who gave us the declaration: “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!”
Curtis McDonald, Shelby Township, MI; Scott Eldridge, Kalamazoo, MI; and Devin Greaney, Cordova, TN
Lists for previous years are available on Lake Superior’s site.
We’re very glad to see quid pro quo atop this year’s list, as it sorely needed banishment. Influencer and OK, Boomer were also excellent choices.
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:
WE SHOULDN’T BE PICKING WINNERS AND LOSERS — This tiresome, nonsensical phrase (a cousin of “social engineering”) has become a staple of speeches by Republican officeholders and is also in frequent use by the groups that enable them. A quick Bing search for the phrase yielded results from RedState, Breitbart, the Conservative Energy Network, and the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, all right wing sites. It also appears in the Republican Party platform. In reality, our society already does pick winners and losers and it always has. America’s tax code and body of laws have never, at any point, been a level playing field. Markets are also rigged; there is no such thing as a free market. As George Lakoff has observed: “All markets are constructed for someone’s benefit… Markets should be constructed for the broadest possible prosperity, and they haven’t been.” It is ironic and deeply disappointing that Republicans often attack attempts to unrig rigged systems as “picking winners and losers.”
NEWS DUMP — This annoying phrase dates back to a practice that began some years ago in the White House and the Pentagon of releasing bad news on a Friday afternoon or evening in the hopes of minimizing or burying it. That was before the Internet Age. We now live in a hyperconnected, always-on era of social media. Releasing bad news on a Friday will not prevent it from immediately being discussed and commented upon. Time for “news dump” to be retired.
STYLE POINTS — This silly expression comes from the world of sports. Players nowadays compete not only to score points, but to rack up “style points” as well, from subjective play callers and announcers who desire to be impressed. What exactly are “style points”? Urban Dictionary says they are awarded for “going above and beyond what is necessary to demonstrate your pure and utter mastery of something.” Hm. Since there is no agreed upon definition of what “style points” are or how they can be earned, they are a meaningless concept. Time to relegate this phrase to the dustbin.
CUPCAKE [in a gridiron or football context] — A cupcake is a confection… a small, single-serving cake that is usually baked in a round container. Gridiron commentators have hijacked this phrase to mock college teams that load their nonconference schedule with beatable opponents, as in: “_______ doesn’t deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff; three of their games were against cupcakes.” The “cupcakes” in this context are the opponents that present no challenge to the well known or nationally ranked team that they are playing. A person who doesn’t follow gridiron all that closely could be forgiven for not knowing what on earth these commentators are referring to.
VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED — Television networks ought to scrap this vague and useless warning, which often appears right before episodes of television shows intended for adult audiences. It makes little sense to urge people to use their discretion when that’s what they are already doing by choosing to watch television. A better, plainer warning might be something along the lines of Please be aware that the program we’re about to present contains themes and scenes that are intended for adult audiences only.
THE STAKES ARE TOO HIGH — This gambling metaphor is overused, especially as a headline or part of a headline. It has lost whatever force or importance it may have once conveyed. For instance: “The stakes are too high for us not to act now on ________” (where ________ is a pressing national or international issue). Sometimes “the stakes are too high” is used in conjunction with “the most important election of our lives,” a previously-banished phrase. Telling someone the stakes are incredibly high probably isn’t going to motivate them to vote or take action considering they’ve been told that before. Let’s come up with more creative ways to describe the gravity of events like the 2020 presidential election.
Previously banished by NPI:
- Special Snowflake
- You Do You
- We Should Live Within Our Means
- She Shed
- Please Listen Carefully As Our Menu Has Changed
- Alternative Facts
- Thoughts and Prayers
- Zero Sum Game
- Hive Mind
- Not/Shouldn’t Be A Partisan Issue
- Make America Great Again/MAGA
- That Being Said
- ____ Porn
- Soft Target
- Netflix and Chill
- Explosive Play
- Chip In
- Active, Fluid Situation
- (If You) Work Hard And Play By The Rules
- Internet of Things
- Pick Six
- Boots On The Ground
- Send A Message
- Amazeballs/Balls to the Wall
- FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
- Debt Ceiling
- -GEDDON contruct (e.g. Snowmageddon)
- Mommy Porn
- Some Would Say/Some Say
- Job Creator
- Two-Thirds Majority
- Let Me Be Perfectly Clear
- Offer Only Available For A Limited Time
- Your Call is Important To Us (an almost identical phrase was banished by Lake Superior State University in 1996)
- Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle
Are there words you like to see banished that aren’t on this year’s list – or LSSU’s all time list? If so, let us know in the comments. And Happy New Year!
Helm (as a verb)