Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Banished Words

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone.

For a couple years now I have posted the Lake Superior State University’s annual “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.” The list, I am afraid, is in decline.

The 2007 list had some truly obnoxious phrases (e.g., “we’re pregnant” — um, no, “she’s pregnant; we're having a baby.” Future fathers should be forever banned from saying “we are pregnant” until men actually have personal experience with morning sickness, hormonal Armageddon, and childbirth. Until then, they should show their support in some other way) and I felt the 2008 list was a true winner. It included: “organic” (as in, “my business is organic”); “wordsmithing” (sort of an insult to people who work with their hands); “post 9/11” (don’t even get me started); “give back” (which implies that one’s daily transactions throughout life are a form of theft); “random” (how can a person be random?); and “it is what it is” (no kidding?).

The reason those prior lists were so effective is that they were able to capture words and phrases whose popularity had surged in the preceding 12 months. They were fun to read because they told us something insightful about the preceding year. But the 2011 list? It mostly includes common (albeit sort of dumb) phrases that do not in any way define 2010. And frankly, the result is pretty crappy. Of the dozen entries on the list, only five belong:
  • Mama grizzlies. (I actually don’t know if this belongs – it is truly obnoxious, but not “over used” or “misused” or “useless”)
  • Refudiate. (Just . . . a stupid word coined during a confused moment in a stupid mind)
  • BFF. (Real BFF’s don’t have to say so)
  • Epic. (A fantastic literary word now commandeered by people who have never read a book)
  • Live life to the fullest. (Ugh)
The rest are either just sort of meh:
  • Wow factor
  • Ah-ha moment
  • The American people
  • I’m just sayin’.
. . . or actually good, useful words:
  • Man up. (We could stand to hear a bit more of this phrase in 2011, not less)
  • Fail. (Not overused, mis-used, or useless, but check back next year)
  • Google/Facebook as verbs. (I suppose the complainers have never xeroxed a sheet of paper, gassed their house to get rid of termites, or briefed an appeal)
  • Viral. (What is wrong with this word? The word is used to describe something with the properties of a virus, be it describing a disease or an embarrassing YouTube clip)
The upshot here is that I am disappointed by the list for two years running. Maybe I am having an ah-ha moment in realizing that 2008 was an epic standout. Maybe the wow-factor will return with next year’s list. At any rate this year’s list was a fail. I’m just sayin’.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny that Patrick goes on a tirade against "we're pregnant" because men don't actually get pregnant yet supports more use of "man up," which simply perpetuates gender stereotypes.

12/31/2010 1:37 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Busted. That IS funny.

12/31/2010 1:39 PM  
Blogger James said...

Ahhh, anonymous beat me to it. Man up is probably one of the worst phrases in the English language. It's right up there with bromance.

12/31/2010 5:44 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I kind of like bromance.

12/31/2010 6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, when i read what patrick said about "we're pregnant" i decided that i will never contribute to boalt again. know that.

12/31/2010 9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeeze, you guys should really man up and get pregnant. Ugh. One of the things I hate most about going to Boalt is how every little comment by anyone anywhere at any time is subjected to rigorous scrutiny for sexual/racial political correctness, and then the whole show stops as soon as someone finds a twinge of something they don't like. Patrick made two small wisecracks that anywhere else would be funny and inoffensive. I hate it here. :(

12/31/2010 10:30 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Man up, 10:30.

12/31/2010 10:32 PM  
Blogger James said...

Yes, "political correctness" is really limited to Boalt this year. No one else cares. ;)

1/01/2011 1:00 AM  
Blogger Toney said...

Patrick, both "man up" and "Fail" both perfectly define 2010. I think you just don't scour the internets enough to know it.

"Man up" was used in several high profile ways by several surprising and high profile sources (, ( TPM even called it the top political catchphrase of 2010 (

"Fail" was so overused in 2010 that not even I use the meme anymore (and I still say "BooYah" and rickroll people). This is the way internet memery works: Year 1 - 4chan users use the term, Year 2 - people that check their email every 3 minutes use the term, Year 3 - my grandmother uses the term and the term dies. This June my grandma tweeted: "just burned banana bread. Fail."

So at least these two terms belong on the list. Those are my thoughts.

1/01/2011 6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

internet works way faster than that now

1/01/2011 9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Add "meh" and "list."

1/02/2011 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most astonishing thing I've learned on N&B after many years of reading it: Toney's grandmother tweets.

1/02/2011 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I totally agree. It majorly sucks to not be able to laugh at entire groups of people.

1/02/2011 11:03 PM  
Blogger Carbolic said...

Actually, I don't think the first anonymous comment makes sense. "We're pregnant" isn't a gender statement; it's a biological statement. And it's factually incorrect.

1/03/2011 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about sack up as an alternative to man up?

1/05/2011 8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about "crush it with your Manhammer"?

1/07/2011 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I nominate, "In this economic environment", especially when used to justify something only tenuously economic.

Other silly 2010isms, although not overused, "Top Kill" and "Junk Shot"

I also think man-up hasn't reached saturation. In all likelihood, 2011 (and the 2012 election season) will be a manup hoedown.

1/11/2011 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Tyler said...

I think the adjective form of "epic" is a good and useful word. It's naturally prone to devaluation through overuse, but that's true of any intensification-adjective-thing, and the reason we need "epic" so much is that words like "marvelous," "awesome," "unbelievable," etc. have already been devalued.

I think I've said this before on this blog but I fundamentally don't understand lists like this one's beef with coining new words that expand the English language. If you want to speak a language regulated by an academy of immortals, I suggest French: I like that English is open source.

I do understand the list's objection to usages that away the meaning of good and valuable words we already have. For example, the recent overfrequent use of words like "random," "organic," "diverse," and "freedom," deprives us of the ability to use these words for what they used to mean. Then again, all those words probably meant something else before they meant what I think they should mean, so confidently calling a use a "mis" use presumes an archimedean point that just isn't there.

In my view, a bigger problem is the impoverishment of our language for programmatic political cleansing. For example, when that guy got in trouble for using the word "niggardly." Or today, when Sarah Palin is in trouble for saying "blood libel." Now using a term coined to criticize anti-semitism is itself anti-semitic? If I say "evil empire," does that make me a Communist?

1/12/2011 11:30 AM  

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