Banished words? LSSU takes on 2012

We’re close enough to the end of last year (and the start of this one) that all those “best” and “worst” lists are still buzzing around. Earlier this week I looked at some candidates for Word of the Year. I’ll dedicate today’s post to the opposite: words that some folks would like to see go away, never to return.

Of course, I’m referring to that annual exercise in good-natured curmudgeon, the Lake Superior State University list of banished words. Here’s the list for 2012.

LSSU’s lists go back to the 1970s, and are usually at least mildly entertaining. As I noted in a comment recently, they don’t expect these words to be literally banished, although in the past they’ve recommended that particular users should be (such as Al Haig in 1982 – who can fault them?). The list to me is actually quite an interesting inventory of what’s really bugging people about the language. It’s a sort of compilation by committee of prescriptivist pet peeves at that moment in time. Think of it as a slice of cultural change, showing where certain elements of the old guard find themselves smacked in the face by pop-culture usage.

Take, for example, yuh know, hopefully, and memo (as a verb)…all from 1978. Or or whatever, from 1988. Or dude from 2001. I’m not sure how you’ll feel about their selections from years past after you look over a few of the lists, but I find it striking that people have been cringing at some of these words and phrases for as long as they have.

These lists are postcards from the past: each is a snapshot in time showing words that were most in flux at the moment. The fact that LSSU has been at this for 37 years makes the collection of lists a unique diagnostic tool of the living language.

But enough musing. You’re reading to get some commentary on their words for this year. Let’s get to it.

It’s amazing, but I’m disappointed with this list. They typically pick several words that are common enough (and potentially irritating enough) that they’re worth a good chuckle. Few made that grade here.

This year, from overused pop phrases we’ve got baby bump, which will probably be uncool in six months and used sarcastically or ironically in a year. From politics and the media, we’ve got shared sacrifice, occupy, the new normal, and win the future. Occupy clearly swings both ways. The others seem to me worth a collective shrug. Not having been glued to political news coverage this past year, I haven’t heard any of them enough for them to get under my skin. I’m not sure I’ve even encountered win the future before seeing it on the list (I’d be more interested in knowing what that phrase is actually supposed to mean; as vacuous political phraseology, it’s hard to beat).

From the domain of corporate-speak, we’ve got blowback. That’s a compound I’ve always thought has quite a lot of potential, provided it doesn’t get overused. I think of it as having military overtones, with violence, explosions, collateral damage. It’s a downer of a word: you can’t have positive blowback, and you’re unlikely to deliberately invite blowback. But that doesn’t make it worthy of banishment.

From sports, we have trickeration. Despite some opinions (and their occasional behavior) to the contrary, sports analysts are people too. They’re entitled to their own jargon. Let them trickerate to their hearts’ content.

Man cave is one of those words that comes along every once in a while that manages to capture a concept better than anything that came before. We’ve had “drawing room” for a couple of centuries (it’s shortened from “withdrawing room”), and “den” for at least several decades. But they don’t succeed in the way man cave does. It’s not particularly elegant in some ways, but it certainly seems useful. Banished? Nay. It might go the way of bell bottoms, shag carpet, and pet rocks all too soon, but it’s vibrant today.

Pet parent is a little bit of a head-scratcher. It seems perched between blatant advertising language and a silly self-label applied by people within a certain group to distinguish themselves. It could settle on either side. Or it could fail altogether, mooting any banishment decree. I won’t be surprised if any of those possibilities come to pass. What will surprise me is if this actually finds a place in common use, at least over the next few years. It doesn’t fill a void…it’s no man cave.

Rounding out the list: ginormous, cited for being ‘too made up’ (it’s at least 60 years old, thank you very much, but still considered slang), and thank you in advance, apparently guilty of an inherently condescending nature. That kind of logic can’t be taken too seriously, otherwise we’ll have to start giving the heave-ho to all kinds of phrases in routine correspondence, such as dear sir or madam, to whom it may concern, and, that trite and snarky little offender, sincerely yours.

As I said…LSSU publishes the list for fun. They don’t take themselves too seriously (and neither should you). I’m not entirely sure that all the people who submit nominations understand that, but that’s another story.

Thanks in advance! I’ll be back again on Monday.

[Note: Or perhaps not. Travel and some other commitments, with a possible lack of Internet access, might prevent me from posting on time. If I miss Monday’s regular post, I’ll make it up to you.]

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About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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3 Responses to Banished words? LSSU takes on 2012

  1. Kimberley says:

    I’m not too impressed with this list either. If I had to pick a word to banish right now it would be “Tebowing”. It’s not an anti-Broncos thing or even an anti-religion issue. The idea of turning someone’s last name into a verb just makes me cringe. Imagine if we did that when Dick Cheney shot that poor man in the face?

    • Ha! Yes, “Tebowing” would make my short list (if I kept one). Converting names into nouns and adjectives is actually pretty common. Turning them in to verbs less so, but it has precedent. Only a few came to mind: lynched, Hoover (still a synonym for ‘to vacuum’ in some places), and “I’ll Rochambeau you for it.” I found a few other (mostly) obscure examples just now (burke, pasteur, bant, boycott), but it took some doing.

  2. Pingback: Film Review: The Whole Wide World | thebettereditor

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