banished words 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

It’s that time of year again: Lake Superior State University has published their "List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness," and, once again, we take issue.

Once again, LSSU uses the term "Queen’s English," which, depending on your dictionary, refers to either standard/accepted English speech, or English as spoken by educated persons in southern England. If we go with the latter definition, then we have to ask what business LSSU, an American university at that, has dictating the proper speech of the Cornish literati (assuming they exist…). If we go with the former definition, then we assume each word is standardized and acceptable English already—and that really monkeys with some of their more obscure choices.

Anyway, here’s the list:

  • <3

The total count is 15, down four from last year’s 19. Of the 15, only 6—or about 40%—are actually single words, the rest are terms and phrases, with the exception of one emoticon. "Wall street/main street," "icon," "game changer," and "not so much," are charged with overuse; "maverick," is charged with both overuse and mis-use; "it’s that time of the year again," with overuse and uselessness. That means only 6 of the 15 entries are cited for being among the "overused, mis-used, and useless"—the other 8—60% of the total list—do not fit into a category. Of the 15, green, and its derivative going green, purportedly received the most nominations. However, the criticisms are very insubstantial:
"I'm all for being environmentally responsible, but this 'green' needs to be nipped in the bud." Valerie Gilson, Gales Ferry, Conn.

"Companies are less 'green' than ever, advertising the fact they are 'green.' Is anyone buying this nonsense?" Mark Etchason, Denver, Colo.

"If I see one more corporation declare itself 'green,' I'm going to start burning tires in my backyard." Ed Hardiman, Bristow, Va.

Neither these three nor the others demonstrate an overuse, misuse, or uselessness of the word "green"; Mark Etchason and Ed Hardiman’s complaints aren’t even against the word "green"—they’re attacking companies that claim to be "green."

The same goes for Ginger Hunt’s argument for banning the term carbon footprint:
"It is now considered fashionable for everyone, tree hugger or lumberjack alike, to pay money to questionable companies to 'offset' their own 'carbon footprint.' What a scam! Get rid of it immediately!" Ginger Hunt, London, England.

Christy Loop’s argument is not much better:
"'Leaving a carbon footprint' has become the new 'politically incorrect.' "How can we not, in one way or another, affect our natural environment?"

The problem with this and many of the other entries on the list is that people don’t find fault with the actual word, term, or phrase; rather, they take issue with the ideas behind them. Whether you agree or disagree with offsetting your carbon footprint or a company "greening its office," that doesn’t mean the word used to describe it should be banished.


Commenter Matthew Mattila makes a very good point:
"The constant repetition of this word for months before the US election diluted whatever meaning it previously had. Even the comic offshoot 'mavericky' was terribly overused. A minimum five-year banishment of both words is suggested so they will not be available during the next federal election."

"maverick," was terribly overused, but Matthew’s recommendation of a five-year banishment raises an important observation: Many of the entries are topical, and so they’ll fade into obscurity soon enough. For example, with the 2008 election over, no one’s using, much less overusing, the word "maverick," and they probably won’t until the next election, so is there much of a point in banishing it? The same goes for first dude—as far as we know, this was used solely to describe Sarah Palin’s husband, and we for one haven’t heard it used since her defeat.

bailout and Wall Street/Main Street are similarly topical, and while we, too, cringe every time we hear them, it won’t be long before they join "maverick" and "first dude."

monkey—does anyone have an example of this? We’ve never seen it or heard it used, and we’re wondering if it’s apocryphal. Not even Rogier Landman, the lone voice decrying it, cites an example.

<3—much the same as "monkey," we haven’t come across this, so it can’t be that overused. Likewise, Andrea Estrata's entreaty—"Just say the word instead of making me turn my head sideways and wondering what 'less than three' means."—misses the point: "<3" saves the typist the trouble of typing "love"— and on those tiny keypads, brevity is a virtue.

*UPDATE* Actually, we nominate this term for eradication because it's f@cking with blogspot's posting software.

John Flood makes a similar plea regarding icon/iconic:
"Can't we switch to 'legendary' or 'famous for'?"

"iconic" has fewer syllables than "legendary" and is much faster to type than "famous for." Besides, if they caught on, it’d be them on the list instead of "icon/iconic."

game changer

"It's game OVER for this cliché, which gets overused in the news media, political arenas and in business." Cynthia, Mt. Pleasant, Mich.

Even if she's right, what makes "game changer" stand out among other so-called overused terms?

staycation is another topical term, evidenced by the references to high gas prices in both comments. Already it's fallen into disuse.

Rick A. Hyatt should've embarked on a desperate search of his own to find an actual complaint against the term:
"Every time the news can't find something intelligent to report, they start on a 'desperate search' for someone, somewhere."

Tom Benson of Milwaukee is even worse in his complaint against not so much:
"I wish that the phrase was used not so much,"

Suffice it to say, if you demonstrate the usefulness of a term when you mean to attack it, the effectiveness of your criticism is...well, not so much.

winner of five nominations
"It hasn't won an Academy Award yet. It has only been NOMINATED!" John Bohenek, Abilene, Tex.

This is actually a fair criticism, because the use of "winner" is misleading—but that doesn't make the term overused, misused, or useless.

it's that time of year again
– Nominated by Kathleen Brosemer of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., for "general overuse and meaninglessness. When is it not 'that time of year again?' From Valentine's sales to year-end charity letters, invitations to summer picnics and Christmas parties, it's 'that time' of year again. Just get to the point of the solicitation, invitation, and newsletter and cut out six useless and annoying words."

If Kathleen is so upset by the term, we suggest she stop associating with people who use it.

Actually, that's our advice to anyone who takes this list to heart. We know it's tongue and cheek, but, judging from the comments, it shows that many people confuse the means of communication with the individuals using them. When there is a charge levied, it’s generally for overuse. But to us a term is overused for one of two reasons: Either 1) It’s not being overused; it’s just a very useful term or 2) The people using it are careless with how they express themselves. Neither reason faults the word, however, and instead of blaming the word, we’d all be better off helping the individuals who overuse, misuse, and carelessly use it.