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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, January 1st, 2020

Banished Words for 2020

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
  • Back-Break­ing
  • 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
  • Woke
  • Not/Shouldn’t Be A Par­ti­san Issue


  • Make Amer­i­ca Great Again/MAGA
  • Alt-Right
  • That Being Said
  • ____ Porn
  • Soft Tar­get


  • Net­flix and Chill
  • Explo­sive Play
  • Chip In
  • Yuc­cie
  • Active, Flu­id Situation


  • Chip­py
  • (If You) Work Hard And Play By The Rules
  • Inter­net of Things
  • Pick Six
  • Phys­i­cal­i­ty
  • Boots On The Ground
  • Send A Message


  • Amazeballs/Balls to the Wall
  • FOMO (Fear Of Miss­ing Out)
  • Presh
  • Debt Ceil­ing
  • Enti­tle­ments


  • Adork­able
  • -GEDDON con­truct (e.g. Snowmageddon)
  • Lit­er­al­ly
  • Mom­my Porn
  • Super­storm
  • Meh


  • Guru
  • Some Would Say/Some Say
  • Job Cre­ator
  • Two-Thirds Major­i­ty
  • Let Me Be Per­fect­ly Clear
  • Offer Only Avail­able For A Lim­it­ed Time
  • Incen­tivize


  • 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!

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One Comment

  1. Thought leader
    Pro tip
    Helm (as a verb)

    # by Ivan Weiss :: January 12th, 2020 at 8:08 AM
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