It happens all the time. Somebody coins a phrase that is both useful and extremely clear. It illustrates the point perfectly. So everyone else wants a go. Then we get the situation where certain words and phrases are so overused that they become at first comical and subsequently infuriating. The word that has been really getting on my nerves lately is “roadmap”. I’m all for roadmaps, when there are roads that I need to find my way around. But roadmaps for peace, roadmaps for aspirational families, roadmaps for stability and so on are driving me mad.
Reported by Reuters recently and in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald, was the Michigan’s Lake Superior State University’s list of words that deserve to be banned.
The University chose from among 2000 submissions, with first prize going to the phrase “a perfect storm”, saying it was now numbingly applied to virtually any notable coincidence. Personally, I’d rather see “roadmap” in first place. Astonishingly, it doesn’t make the list at all.
Here are the nineteen words and phrases selected, along with some of the comments from the people citing them for inclusion:
PERFECT STORM – “Overused by the pundits on evening TV shows to mean just about any coincidence.” – Lynn Allen, Warren, Michigan.
“I read that ‘Ontario is a perfect storm,’ in reference to a report on pollution levels in the Great Lakes. Ontario is the name of one of the lakes and a Canadian province. This guy would have me believe it’s a hurricane. It’s time for ‘perfect storm’ to get rained out.” – Bob Smith, DeWitt, Michigan.
“Hands off book titles as cheap descriptors!” – David Hollis, Hamilton, New York.
WEBINAR – A seminar on the web about any number of topics.
“Ouch! It hurts my brain. It should be crushed immediately before it spreads.” – Carol, Lams, Michigan.
“Yet another non-word trying to worm its way into the English language due to the Internet. It belongs in the same school of non-thought that brought us e-anything and i-anything.” – Scott Lassiter, Houston, Texas.
WATERBOARDING – “Let’s banish ‘waterboarding’ to the beach, where it belongs with boogie boards and surfboards.” – Patrick K. Egan, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
ORGANIC – Overused and misused to describe not only food, but computer products or human behavior, and often used when describing something as “natural,” says Crystal Giordano of Brooklyn, New York. Another advertising gimmick to make things sound better than they really are, according to Rick DeVan of Willoughby, Ohio, who said he has heard claims such as “My business is organic,” and computers having “organic software.”
“Things have gone too far when they begin marketing T-shirts as organic.” – Michelle Fitzpatrick, St. Petersburg, Florida.
“‘Organic’ is used to describe everything, from shampoo to meat. Banishment! Improperly used!” – Susan Clark, Bristol, Maine.
“The possibility of a food item being inorganic, i.e., not being composed of carbon atoms, is nil.” – John Gomila, New Orleans, Louisiana.
“You see the word ‘organic’ written on everything from cereal to dog food.” – Michael, Sacramento, California.
“I’m tired of health food stores selling products that they say are organic. All the food we eat is organic!” – Chad Jacobson, Park Falls, Wisconsin.
WORDSMITH/WORDSMITHING – “I’ve never read anything created by a wordsmith – or via wordsmithing – that was pleasant to read.” – Emily Kissane, St. Paul, Minnesota.
AUTHOR/AUTHORED – “In one of former TV commentator Edwin Newman’s books, he wonders if it would be correct to say that someone ‘paintered’ a picture?” – Dorothy Betzweiser, Cincinnati, Ohio.
POST 9/11 – “‘Our post-9/11 world,’ is used now, and probably used more, than AD, BC, or Y2K, time references. You’d think the United States didn’t have jet fighters, nuclear bombs, and secret agents, let alone electricity, ‘pre-9/11.'” – Chazz Miner, Midland, Michigan.
SURGE – “‘Surge’ has become a reference to a military build-up. Give me the old days, when it referenced storms and electrical power.” – Michael F. Raczko, Swanton, Ohio.
“Do I even have to say it? I can’t be the first one to nominate it…put me in line. From Iraq to Wall Street to the weather forecast – ‘surge’ really ought to recede.” – Mike Lara, Colorado.
“This word came out in the context of increasing the number of troops in Iraq. Can be used to explain the expansion of many things (I have a surge in my waist) and it’s use will grow out of control…The new Chevy Surge, just experience the roominess!” – Eric McMillan, Mentor, Ohio.
GIVE BACK – “This oleaginous phrase is an emergency submission to the 2008 list. The notion has arisen that as one’s life progresses, one accumulates a sort of deficit balance with society which must be neutralized by charitable works or financial outlays. Are one’s daily transactions throughout life a form of theft?” – Richard Ong, Carthage, Missouri.
“Various media have been featuring a large number of people who ‘just want to give back.’ Give back to whom? For what?” – Curtis Cooper, Hazel Park, Michigan.
‘BLANK’ is the new ‘BLANK’ or ‘X’ is the new ‘Y’ – In spite of statements to the contrary, ‘Cold is (NOT) the new hot,’ nor is ’70 the new 50.’ The idea behind such comparisons was originally good, but we’ve all watched them spiral out of reasonable uses into ludicrous ones and it’s now time to banish them from use. Or, to phrase it another way, ‘Originally clever advertising is now the new absurdity!'” – Lawrence Mickel, Coventry, Connecticut.
“Believed to have come into use in the 1960s, but it is getting tired. The comparisons have become absurd.” – Geoff Steinhart, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
“‘Orange is the new black.’ ’50 is the new 30.’ ‘Chocolate is the new sex.’ ‘Sex is the new chocolate.’ ‘Fallacy is the new truth.’ – Patrick Dillon, East Lansing, Michigan.
BLACK FRIDAY – “The day after Thanksgiving that retailers use to keep themselves out of the ‘red’ for the year. (And then followed by “Cyber-Monday.”) This is counter to the start of the Great Depression’s use of the term ‘Black Tuesday,’ which signaled the crash of the stock market that sent the economy into a tailspin. – Carl Marschner, Melvindale, Michigan.
BACK IN THE DAY – “Back in the day, we used ‘back-in-the-day’ to mean something really historical. Now you hear ridiculous statements such as ‘Back in the day, people used Blackberries without Blue Tooth.'” – Liz Jameson, Tallahassee, Florida.
“This one might’ve already made the list back in the day, which was a Wednesday, I think.” – Tim Bradley, Los Angeles, California.
RANDOM – Popular with teenagers in many places.
“Over-used and usually out of context, i.e. ‘You are so random!’ Really? Random is supposed to mean ‘by chance.’ So what I said was by chance, and not by choice?” – Gabriel Brandel, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
“Outrageous mis- and overuse, mostly by teenagers, i.e. ‘This random guy, singing this random song…It was so random.’ Grrrrr.” – Leigh, Duncan, Galway, Ireland.
“Overuse on a massive scale by my fellow youth. Every event, activity and person can be ‘sooo random’ as of late. Banish it before I go vigilante.” – Ben Martin, Adelaide, South Australia.
“How can a person be random?” – Emma Halpin, Liverpool, Merseyside, United Kingdom.
SWEET – “Too many sweets will make you sick. It 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. It is annoying when young children use it and have no idea why, but it really sounds stupid coming from the mouths of adults. Please kill this particular use of an otherwise fine word.” – Wayne Braver, Manistique, Michigan
“Youth lingo overuse, similar to ‘awesome.’ I became sick of this one immediately.” – Gordon Johnson, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
DECIMATE – Word-watchers have been calling for the annihilation of this one for several years.
“Used today in reference to widespread destruction or devastation. If you will not banish this word, I ask that its use be ‘decimated’ (reduced by one-tenth).” – Allan Dregseth, Fargo, North Dakota.
“I nominate ‘decimate’ as it applies to Man’s and Nature’s destructive fury and the outcome of sporting contests. Decimate simply means a 10% reduction – no more, no less. It may have derived notoriety because the ancient Romans used decimation as a technique for prisoner of war population reduction or an incentive for under-performing battle units. A group of 10 would be assembled and lots drawn. The nine losers would win and the winner would die at the hands of the losers – a variation on the instant lottery game. Perhaps ‘creamed’ or ’emulsified’ should be substituted. – Mark Dobias, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
“The word is so overused and misused, people use it when they should be saying ‘annihilate.’ It’s so bad that now there are two definitions, the real one and the one that has taken over like a weed. – Dane, Flowery Branch, Georgia.
“‘Decimate’ has been turned upside down. It means ‘to destroy one tenth,’ but people are using it to mean ‘to destroy nine tenths.’ – David Welch, Venice, Florida.
EMOTIONAL – “Reporters, short on vocabulary, often describe a scene as ’emotional.’ Well sure, but which emotion? For a radio reporter to gravely announce, ‘There was an emotional send off to Joe Blow’ tells me nothing, other than the reporter perceived that the participants acted in an emotional way. For instance: I had an emotional day today. I started out feeling tired and a bit grumpy until I had my coffee. I was distraught over a cat killing a bird on the other side of the street. I was bemused by my reaction to the way nature works. I was intrigued this evening to add a word or two to your suggestions. I was happy to see the words that others had posted. Gosh, this has been an emotional day for me.” – Brendan Kennedy, Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada.
POP – “On every single one of the 45,000 decorating shows on cable TV (of which I watch many) there is at LEAST one obligatory use of a phrase such as … ‘the addition of the red really makes it POP.’ You know when it’s coming … you mouth it along with the decorator. There must be some other way of describing the addition of an interesting detail.” – Barbara, Arlington, Texas.
IT IS WHAT IT IS – “This pointless phrase, uttered initially by athletes on the losing side of a contest, is making its way into general use. It accomplishes the dual feat of adding nothing to the conversation while also being phonetically and thematically redundant.” – Jeffrey Skrenes, St. Paul, Minnesota.
“It means absolutely nothing and is mostly a cop out or a way to avoid answering a question in a way that might require genuine thought or insight. Listen to an interview with some coach or athlete in big-time sports and you’ll inevitably hear it.” – Doug Compo, Brimley, Michigan.
“It seems to be everywhere and pervade every section of any newspaper I read. It reminds me of ‘Who is John Galt?’ from ‘Atlas Shrugged.’ It implies an acceptance of the status quo regardless of the circumstances. But it is what it is.” – Erik Pauna, Mondovi, Wisconsin.
“Only Yogi Berra should be allowed to utter such a circumlocution.” – Jerry Holloway, Belcamp, Maryland.
“This is migrating from primetime ‘reality television’ and embedding itself into otherwise articulate persons’ vocabularies. Of course it is what it is…Otherwise, it wouldn’t be what it would have been!” – Steve Olsen, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.
UNDER THE BUS – “For overuse. I frequently hear this in the cliché-filled sports world, where it’s used to describe misplaced blame – i.e. ‘After Sunday’s loss, the fans threw T.O. under the bus.” – Mark R. Hinkston, Racine, Wisconsin.
“Please, just ‘blame’ them.” – Mike Lekan, Kettering, Ohio.
“Just wondering when someone saying something negative became the same as a mob hit. Since every sportscaster in the US uses it, is a call for the media to start issuing a thesaurus to everyone in front of a camera.” – Mark Bockhaus, Appleton, Wisconsin.
“Please, just ‘blame’ them.” – Mike Lekan, Kettering, Ohio.
“Just wondering when someone saying something negative became the same as a mob hit. Since every sportscaster in the US uses it, is a call for the media to start issuing a thesaurus to everyone in front of a camera.” — Mark Bockhaus, Appleton, Wisconsin.
As you can see, the list is rather America-centric, but that naturally makes it at least partly relevant to us here in Australia. We do seem to enjoy absorbing the worst of American culture like an obese teenager sucking up chips.
It was interesting to see “Back in the day” in this list. I remember when the phrase “At the end of the day” was really popular. Like some qualifier that prevents any other argument or response, at the end of the day that’s all there is to it. I wonder if that phrase ever made this list in previous years.
Anyway, there you have it. It will be interesting to see what words and phrases start accumulating this year that we’ll be sick of in the next twelve months.