Here's a word to the wise: Give irksome terms the boot

January 03, 2003|By Marja Mills | Marja Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Aplea to the nation's leaders and news commentators from the word watchers at a small Michigan university: Give the buzzwords a rest, starting with "weapons of mass destruction."

"It's like someone jumping out of a closet and saying `boo' too many times," said John Shibley, a spokesman for Lake Superior State University in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Shibley helped compile the university's 28th annual "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness," released New Year's Day.

Despite the whimsical title, the list addresses serious terms along with lighthearted ones, especially since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"We run the risk of trivializing the horror of these things if we keep invoking the bogeyman over and over again," Shibley said of the drumbeat use of "weapons of mass destruction." "They could just say chemical weapons or biological weapons or nuclear weapons."

"Overused and overwrought," echoed Michelle Gill of Chicago in nominating the term.

People from around the country, and the world, send e-mails, faxes and letters to nominate the year's most irksome words and phrases.

The college fielded a record 3,000 nominations in 2002.

"Material breach," invoked again and again to describe what the United States considers Iraq's serious violation of United Nations demands, also won a spot on the new list, for sounding legalistic.

And for sounding just plain odd, in the view of an unnamed nominator from Washington, who declared that the term "suggests an obstetrical complication that pulls a physician off the golf course."

Reports of Vice President Dick Cheney sometimes working from an "undisclosed, secret location," earned a thumbs down, too.

"If it's a secret, it's pretty undisclosed," pointed out Bill Lodholz of Davis, Calif.

The nominators tend to be an outspoken bunch, as in this comment from Josh Mandel of Colonie, N.Y., about the tired phrase "Now, more than ever."

"This precious way of saying, `Now that we've had a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, we have a duty to recognize the important things in life' seems to be the recent darling of advertisers and politicians. ... What simpering balderdash!"

The euphemistic use of "challenge" also drew the ire of nominators. "I think it's a weasel word," wrote Ray Lucas of Ann Arbor, Mich. " `Challenges' only have to be met. Problems require solutions!"

News anchors' announcements of reporters being "on the ground" to cover events made the list as "media hip-speak and frivolous dramatization."

The hype artists in advertising who overuse "extreme" got their knuckles rapped, too.

"Extreme sports, extreme cars, extreme soft drinks ... " wrote Doug Hagen of Newton, N.C. "I'm tired of hearing of it."

"Razors aren't extreme," wrote a nominator identified only as Cliff of Pensacola, Fla. "Neither are deodorants or cheeseburgers."

"Must See TV," the relentlessly repeated NBC slogan, gave nominator Nan Heflin of Colorado Springs, Colo., the opposite impulse. "Must find remote," she wrote. "Must change channel."

The word watchers also took the sports world to task.

"Got game" has got to go, they said.

"I hear this phrase used by sportscasters trying to be hip: He's got game tonight!" wrote Scott Tolentino of Garden City, Utah. "They mean he's playing well."

Sports commentators also were urged to banish a stock phrase that does not compute: "There is no score."

"It is inaccurate and misleading," wrote Paul Jertson of Christmas Valley, Ore. "There is a score. It is 0-0."

That might be a bit picky. But, technically, he is right.

Word fanciers that they are, the compilers of the list put a little English on the ball in labeling their final category of words to be banished.

They called it, "Tautology and Other Circumambages."

"Frozen tundra," often used to describe the Green Bay Packers' home field, made that category. "Tundra means a frozen land," observed Michael Pittman of Cincinnati.

That means saying "frozen tundra" is the equivalent of calling an automatic teller machine by the redundant term ATM machine.

The word-banishment list often sparks debate on radio talk shows, as listeners call in to agree or vehemently disagree with the choices.

As it should be.

The compilation is meant not only to be entertaining, according to Shibley, but also to make people think.

"The serious side of the list," he said, "is to try to get people to examine what they say and why they say it."

Marja Mills writes for the Chicago Tribune.


Lake Superior State University's 2003 List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness:

Material breach

Must See TV

Untimely death

Black ice

On the ground

Weapons of mass destruction

Make no mistake about it

Homeland security


Now, more than ever


Having said that (and) That said

Peel-and-eat shrimp

It's a good thing

As per

Reverse discrimination

There is no score

Got game

Mental mistake

Blue (red/yellow/green, etc.) in color

Frozen tundra

Undisclosed, secret location

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