banished words for 2008

Friday, January 4, 2008

If you're looking for our 2009 writeup, go here.

Once more Lake Superior State University has released its annual list of words to be banished, and once more it is written in the same drab, condescending tone we find so common among our inferiors.

To begin with, the official title -- The 33rd Annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness -- is a wholly incompetent description of the list. "Queen's English," for example, refers to a method of pronunciation, but the list comprises words and (as we shall see) phrases; "banished" denotes the words' expulsion, but were that so, how on Earth could they ever appear on the list? And in the name of Strunk and White, the first "word" is "Perfect Storm!"

We could rail on about the lack of a serial comma or the ambiguity of whether "for" refers to "Words" or "English," but we feel no need to bother any more with a mere trifling of a title -- save this: Misuse, overuse, and even uselessness are all faults of the user, not of the term itself; one does not blame the scalpel for making the wrong incision.

The list:

  • perfect storm
  • webinar
  • waterboarding
  • organic
  • wordsmith/wordsmithing
  • authored
  • post 9/11
  • surge
  • give back
  • 'X' is the new 'Y'
  • black Friday
  • back in the day
  • random
  • sweet
  • decimate
  • emotional
  • pop
  • it is what it is
  • under the bus
Of these, "back in the day," "sweet," and "decimate," are banished for misuse; "perfect storm," "post 9/11," "surge," and "under the bus" for overuse; and "x is the new y," "emotional," "pop," and "it is what it is," for uselessness. "Organic" and "random" are both over- and misused. "webinar," "waterboarding," "wordsmith/wordsmithing," "authored," "give back," and "black Friday," go unsorted, meaning that six of the 19 words -- approximately 1/3 of the list -- face banishment without even being charged!

"webinar," is guilty of nothing more than "hurting the brain" of Carol, Lams, Michigan--given the sophistication of Ms. Carol's argument, we do not doubt the truth of her statement, but is such an act grounds for banishment? Should "wordsmith/wordsmithing," be likewise punished simply because Emily Kissane of St. Paul, Minnesota has "never read anything created by a wordsmith - or via wordsmithing - that was pleasant to read"?

Dorothy Betzweiser of Cincinnati, Ohio charges "authored" thus, "In one of former TV commentator Edwin Newman's books, he wonders if it would be correct to say that someone 'paintered' a picture?" Would it be incorrect?

Poor "Black Friday" is not even charged; and, chillingly, we banish "waterboarding" on the whim of Patrick K. Egan, Sault Ste. Marie.

As we said before, the fault lies with the user, not with the term. With that in mind, we should note that those eager to purge English of her many words are not without blame. Lynn Allen of Warren, Michigan charged "Perfect Storm" with the mongoloid statement, "Overused by the pundits on evening TV shows to mean just about any coincidence." We could easily say Ms. Allen overuses her generalities to make, oh, just about any ambiguous claim.

"Too many sweets will make you sick. [Sweet] became popular with the advent of the television show 'South Park' and by rights should have died of natural causes, but the term continues to cling to life." "With the advent of," "died of natural causes," "cling to life": One doubts the former, suspects the middle, and wishes the latter had regarding Waye Braver's sense of originality.

Words adapt, evolve, mutate, and, thankfully, they'll never stop, despite the bellyfelt oppressiveness of duck-speaking word fascists like these. You don't like how someone uses a term? Correct them, not the term.


The Ridger, FCD said...


Vivek Kumar said...

"mongoloid statement"?? WTF!?

Alan said...

So you use a lot of these terms then, do you?

It's completely incorrect to suggest that the overuse of a word or phrase is the fault of the user. Overuse, by definition, suggests way more than one user, therefore the phrase has become entrenched and lost any originality and bite. Therefore, all these users should stop using it and therefore, the phrase would be gone.

Also, this is supposed to be a light hearted list, as far as I can tell, and the words and phrases won't actually be banished for real. You know that, right? ;)

Nat said...


We don't quite follow your criticism; if we are incorrect in saying the fault lies with the user, then who or what is at fault?

And yes, we recognize the light-heartedness of the list and tried to phrase our critique of it in a similarly wry tone. We try not to take things too seriousilly. ;)

mamagalen said...

I arrived at this lovely posting from Unshelved and the "webinar" strip, and I have quite enjoyed the string. I would like to interject my opinion... First off, I have to admit that I use the word webinar every workday of my life. It's something we do at my job. I would LOVE a more creative, more accurate, more explanatory wording - that is NOT cumbersome and confusing. Please contribute your suggestions and I will happily change!
On another note - I have six children, the oldest 28 and the youngest 17. I am regularly exposed to the MOST colorful non-conformist language. I correct their grammar, usage, etc. on a regular basis. But when they come up with something funky - a word that says something better than previous language allowed (like funky) I applaud, I don't criticize. If it weren't for language evolving through the introduction of new phrasing and vocabulary by the less educated, we would still be speaking like Geoffry Chaucer.
PLUS - how can we criticize all of the e-words and i-words flying about willy nilly when our lives are changing more rapidly than scholars, dictionaries, and "official language magistrates" can keep up with? We're just fending for ourselves - speaking as a marketing director now - grasping at lingo that will strike a recognizable chord. It's tough to explain entirely new technology, experiences, and behaviors with old words which have other (subtle) meanings embedded in them. I will be happy to relinquish 'webinar' for another word - but not another group of three words. How about "e-conference?" : )