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Which words do we love to hate?

Every year since 1976, Lake Superior State University in Michigan has released a small list of select words – those that they have decided should be banished from everyday use of English. The list is released on the first day of the year, and is composed of words submitted by the public that are thought to be candidates for banishment based on ‘mis-use, over-use, and general uselessness’.

It is worth looking at these words that so annoy people that they feel compelled to take the time and effort to send in an anonymous email venting their spleen. Most of the ‘banished’ words are actually phrases, and many of the single words on the list are not terribly new. Yet they have still managed to find their way on to a ‘To Be Banished’ list.

An amazing word

The word with the most requests for banishment was amazing. Many people who wrote in made the case that offenders use this word to describe things that do not actually amaze. This is nothing new –  terrific originally referred to things that terrified, wonderful described something that gave you wonder or astonishment, and once upon a time fabulous was used only to describe things that related to fables – few would argue that the language is being debased if they hear that someone had a fabulous, wonderful, terrific day.

A ginormous portmanteau is not everyone’s bag

Ginormous also raised sufficient ire to be on the list, with several people complaining that it is a portmanteau word (or, as one commenter phrased it: ‘just a made-up combination of two words’). It is worth noting that few people have the same objection to motel, brainiac, brunch, camcorder, or chortle, all of which are similarly formed.

You can’t teach a dog new tricks

Another word on the list, trickeration, is apparently used recently by football analysts. Some who wrote in once again complained about this being a ‘made-up word’, while others took exception to the fact that the analysts should have just used a nice simple word such as trick or trickery. While trickeration may be enjoying a renaissance of late with these sports commentators, it is not a terribly new word, going back at least as far at 1931 (it was the title of a song by Cab Calloway), and was used throughout the mid-twentieth century (by Langston Hughes and others).

We all have our favourites

We can all probably think of  words that we have taken against in some way, words which we feel are hackneyed, over-used, redundant, or otherwise injurious to our own sense of good taste. Indeed, a few months ago, we ran a poll here to ask which office jargon most infuriated our readers. Of the choices that we gave, ‘going forward’ took the prize, but only just with incentivize coming a very close second. As well as the seven choices we provided, readers also supplied additional verbal irritants with touch base, proactive, and ‘reach out’ being given honourable mentions. It seems also that familiar nouns being used as verbs seem to annoy, with ‘letter’ and task being singled out. In the case of task, its use as a verb meaning ‘to assign a task to’ goes back to the sixteenth century – not quite the new kid on the block.

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