Sunday, January 3, 2016

Banished Words

                                                                    Milton C. Toby photo
By Milton C. Toby

How often have you read or heard snippets of dialogue like this one:

"So, Mrs. Rottingham, what does this new information tell us about the missing horse?" the detective said.

What purpose, exactly, does the introductory "so" serve?

No purpose at all, apparently, which is why it topped Lake Superior State University's 41st annual "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness." The list first was compiled by the late W. T. Rabe, former public relations director at LSSU, who began collecting words he and his colleagues hated at a New Year's Eve party in the mid-1970s. Publication of the inaugural list generated hundreds of letters to LSSU, and the banished words selection soon was opened to suggestions from the public.

One of the nominations for banishing an introductory "so" from our speech came from Thomas H, Weiss, from Michigan:

"Frequently used to begin a sentence, particularly in response to a question, this tiresome and grammatically incorrect replacement for "Like," or "Um," is even more irksome . . . It hurts my ears every time I hear it!"

Scott Shackleton from Canada noted that "the word serves no purpose in the sentence and to me is like fingernails on a chalkboard."

Other words or phrases to make the 2016 list of banished words (with selected comments) include:
  • Conversation--We are invited to "join the conversation if we want to give an opinion. This expression is overused and annoying."
  • Problematic--A personal favorite of mine, "problematic" was described as a "corporate-academic weasel word."
  • Stakeholder--"A word that has expanded from describing someone who may actually have a stake in a situation or problem, now being overused in business to describe customer and others," according to LSSU. "Dr. Van Helsings should be the only stake holder," according to Jeff Baenen, of Minneapolis, Michigan.
  • Price Point--"An example of using two words when one will do."
  • Secret Sauce--I've never encountered this one, but it apparently is common in business communications touting the success of something or other.
  • Break the Internet--"An annoying bit of hyperbole about the latest saucy picture or controversy that already is becoming trite."
  • Walk It Back--Used to describe a politician who makes a statement and then has to either retract it or try and explain that what he said isn't what he really meant.
  • Presser--Ridiculous shorthand for a press release or press conference.
  • Manspreading--Used to explain the lack of seats on pubic transportation in larger cities as males take up more than their fair share of room.
  • Vape--A verb describing the use of e-cigarettes instead if tobacco products. Canadian David Ervin hopes the word "goes up in smoke."
  • Giving Me Life--A phrase that "refers to anything that may excite a person, or something that causes one to laugh."
  • Physicality--Common in sports broadcasting and writing, although no one knows exactly what it means.  
So, why should the LSSU list and others like it matter for writers?

For me, the list means a New Year's resolution to be more aware of trendy words when I write. Sometimes they work, sometimes not, but there always is a danger of confusing readers with a word that was popular yesterday, but not today. There also is a very real danger associated with trying to sound hip when you are anything but, as I've learned to my chagrin from time to time.

1 comment:

  1. So, apparently I am guilty as charged. Is that problematic? I suppose I should walk it back a bit, since I'm not sure if I've actually been invited to join the conversation. Although I do feel like a stakeholder in this situation, I've definitely not found the secret sauce with which to break the Internet. I could continue, but I'll stop there, because I'm definitely not using manspreading in a sentence. No vaping way.