Careful writers and speakers use good judgement and variety when choosing their words and phrases. However, it seems as though each year generates a new list of words and phrases that have garnered particular misuse and abuse over the year by far too many communicators, who should know better but who seem to be caught in the trap of misuse and abuse of the English language.
A list of the previous year’s most abused and misused words/phrases first appeared on January 1, 1976, compliments of the late W. T. Rabe, who was the public relations director at Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Sadly, a new list of words and phrases has been generated on an annual basis ever since, and there doesn’t appear a shortage of content for future lists being added.
Below are the biggest offenders for 2015, along with explanations as to why they made the made the list. This newest list, which was published on January 1, 2016, by LSSU, represents the 40th annual list developed by LSSU—is there no shame?
|So||That’s right folks, you should never respond to a question by opening with the word “so.” Example: “What is your favorite pastime?” Answer: “So, my favorite pastime is hiking along nature trails.”|
|Conversation||Media types from all areas seem particularly prone to misuse this word and substitute it for every type of verbal/written word that describes an exchange. “Conversation” seems to have pushed other words such as “discussion, chat, dialog, etc.” out of the way.|
|Problematic||This word appears to have made its evolution and burst on to the scene thanks to the corporate world. If you want to indicate that something appears to be a problem, why not just say it that way?|
|Stakeholder||First used to describe someone who has a stake in a matter or decision, now everyone, e.g., customers, clients, etc., are lumped into this category.|
|Price Point||The comment left on the ISSU web site by one person declared, “It has no ‘point.’ It is just a ‘price.’” Makes sense!|
|Secret Sauce||This phrase, which is meant to refer to some “secret” in “way too much information” detail have left some wondering if it was developed by someone in the fast food industry but somehow found its way into general business discussions.|
|Break the Internet||Refers to a posted comment, photo, or video that may be controversial, that has gone viral, and that will overload the Internet servers and “break them.” What would all of us do if the Internet did break?|
|Walk it back||Meant to show the retreat on or retraction of a statement or policy. We’ve seen politicians do this all the time. I wonder how exhausted they must be after so much “walking back”?|
|Presser||Can you believe this “nonword” made it in to the vocabulary of some as a substitute for press release or press conference? We can do better!|
|Manspreading||Sounds a little vulgar, but it is meant to describe someone taking up too much space on a bus or a subway transit system. This term (it, too, is a “nonword”) has then been used to describe other situations where someone takes more than his or her fair share. Didn’t we used to say “hogging” something?|
|Vape||Used to describe the smoking of e-cigarettes, which actually emit vapor and not smoke. It would be wonderful if the person who left the comment at ISSU’s site, “I hope this one goes up in smoke,” gets his or her wish!|
|Giving me life||This phrase refers to anything that may excite a person or something that may cause the person to laugh. Not good!|
|Physicality||Yep, this noun has become popular in the sports world within the past couple of years, but really folks, what does it mean? It is being used to refer to an athlete or contest, but according to Merriman-Webster, the word physicality refers to, “the predominance of the physical usually at the expense of the mental, spiritual, or social.” Does this mean the body is supreme over the mind? You be the judge!|
To see a complete list of words and phrases that have made their way to the “banished” list over this 40-year time period, please visit Lake Superior State University’s web site at
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