One of the ways I cope with the early January post-holiday letdown is the anticipation of one of my favorite lists, the “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness” published each January since 1976 by Lake Superior State University in Sault St. Marie, Michigan.
For language lovers, and those of us who love to hate certain words, it’s nothing short of a delight.
Each year a LSSU committee makes their selection from submissions that come in all year long. The list was started by a now-deceased faculty member at a New Year’s Eve party 40-plus years ago and has grown in popularity ever since.
On the university’s website, where the list can be found, there is an archives section that has all the words that have ever made the list. It includes some of my favorites, such as “synergy,” “double down,” “it is what it is” and my all-time forever non-favorite, “reach out.” (I defy you to go through a day, especially if you work in an office, without someone saying they will reach out to someone).
As a team building exercise, I once gave my work group a list of 30 buzz words and phrases and asked them to rank my top ten most despised ones. Almost all have been on the LSSU list.
I am the first to admit I am not immune from using one of the overused, often meaningless words or phrases. I only have to go back through past columns to confirm this. So the list not only serves as a source of entertainment for me, but also as a challenge to avoid trite words and phrases myself.
Topping the 2019 list of 18 new tired words and phrases is “wheelhouse,” which has become a way of saying something is or is not an area of expertise for the speaker, as in, “sorry, that’s just not in my wheelhouse.”
I love the comment from Kevin in Portland Oregon who, along with others, submitted the word, saying “Most people have never seen a wheelhouse.” That is undoubtedly true, and I doubt many know the dictionary definition, “an enclosed structure on the deck of a ship from which it can be navigated.”
Another one making the list this year is OTUS, an acronym that stands for “of the Unites States” and is most commonly used as POTUS (president), FLOTUS (first lady) and SCOTUS (Supreme Court). I believe this originally started as code the Secret Service (would they be SSOTUS?) used for the president and first lady, but it has taken on a life of its own with media members now using these acronyms as if it is assumed the reader knows what they mean.
Michael in Alameda California submitted the word “platform” and said it is an excuse to rant.
“Facebook, Instagram, Twitter have become platforms,” Michael said. “Even athletes call a post-game interview a ‘platform.’ Step down from the platform, already.” (Good advice, Michael).
There was one I had never before heard, “yeet,” which, according to the LSSU website, is supposed to mean “to vigorously throw or toss.” I’m going to be looking for this one. To my knowledge, I have never yeeted anything, nor have I known anyone who has.
Others making the list were “optics,” a cool way to describe how something appears (and which I have been guilty of using); “legally drunk,” which Phillip from Auburn, Indiana said should not be used synonymously with “illegally drunk,” which occurs when one is ticketed for drunk driving (he points out that legally drunk, in a literal sense, would mean you’re tipsy and you’re getting away with it); “thought leader;” and “collusion,” of which John from Grosse Point Pointe Park, Michigan, said, “we all need to collude on getting rid of this word.”
My favorite from the 2019 list is “the most important election of our time,” which has been spouted in every election as far back as I can remember. As Jose, from Ozark, Arkansas, said, “Not that we haven’t had six or seven back-to-back most important elections of our time.”
I have never made a submission for consideration, but this year I might. It will be the word sandbox. This is making the rounds in the business world right now, as in “we are all in the same sandbox” or “let’s use our toys in the sandbox wisely.” It’s another supposedly cool way of talking about working together and having the resources to do so, similar to the distasteful “on the same page” or “singing from the same sheet of music.” I am not a fan.
I’m sure readers might have other suggestions. If overused words are part of your wheelhouse, please reach out.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.