Every year, Lake Superior State University issues a list of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness. This list is comprised of words nominated by Americans. Here’s the list from 2012:
2. Baby bump
3. Shared sacrifice
6. Man cave
7. The new normal
8. Pet parent
9. Win the future
12. Thank you in advance
In our speech and writing, as with most other aspects of our lives, we go through phases and trends. Certainly, some of these pithy words catch on for a reason. They sound neat. They encapsulate a specific meaning we are trying to get across. But then people start to overuse them. It feels as though no word can do as good a job as that word. But this is not true. We can avoid overworking these words by using them correctly and more sparingly, and by finding different words that capture our meaning just as well, if not better.
Some of these are, obviously, phrases, not words. “Shared sacrifice”, “the new normal”, and “win the future” are all overused political catchphrases. My guess is that the banishment of these phrases is a reflection of Americans’ feelings toward the current state of the economy: a lot of talk, and no change. I suggest for these, simply avoid using them altogether, unless you are referencing the phrase itself (as in, “‘The new normal’ isn’t normal at all, since Americans are so dissatisfied with the current economic climate.”).
But for these other words and phrases, there are many alternatives. For the improvement of our own lexicons and to avoid using terms and phrases that obviously annoy people, we should have some replacements close at hand. In fact, since they’ve been banished by LSSU, treat them as if they no longer exist. I highly suggest investing in a good thesaurus, like the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. Here are some good reasons and ways to avoid using the henceforth unmentionable words:
- This word has two strikes against it: it’s overused and it’s non-specific. When you feel your fingers starting to type this word, or your mouth opening to utter it, stop yourself and ask what you really mean. There’s probably a more specific way to describe the event/thing. This is a classic case of show-don’t-tell: give examples so your audience feels amazed with you, without having to take your word for it.
- But if you must tell them, try one of these words instead: awe-inspiring, stunning, beautiful, shocking, startling, wondrous, breathtaking, or phenomenal. These words are still somewhat non-specific, so don’t rely too heavily on them. And be careful not to overuse these!
- There’s nothing inherently wrong with this phrase, but some feel it belittles pregnancy and pregnant women. It can make women feel awkward, as if they are a spectacle. Some moms aren’t offended by this, and that’s great. But the phrase is definitely overused. It’s better to remember that the whole reason there’s a bump is because there’s a baby inside. Try talking focusing on the baby instead, as in “The baby is growing” or “You must be excited to meet your little girl/boy soon.” Moms will probably appreciate talking about their child rather than their figure, of which they are very much aware, and don’t need you to point out to them. There is an actual line of Baby Bump maternity clothes, though, as well as an app called Baby Bump. You can use the phrase if you’re referring to the proper noun.
- We all know about the Occupy Movement. Again, it’s ok to reference the movement, since that’s what it’s called. But the movement hasn’t really yielded any results, and the word has come to be understood as an empty threat. It’s a popular joke, but overused. Because this word has been banished, let’s move on.
- The dictionary defines this word as: “a process in which gases expand or travel in a direction opposite to the usual one, especially through escape of pressure or delayed combustion” and “the unintended adverse results of a political action or situation.” This word has two very specific meanings, and it should be used only in those contexts.
- If you’re not talking about gases or political situations, try using one of these: repercussions, consequences, aftermath, reaction, or resistance.
- This phrase is overused and sexist: it implies a place where men can go to do “manly” things like play video games or watch football and eat junk food, and is decorated to appeal to “manly” interests, with sports memorabilia and pictures of scantily-clad women. And why is it called a “cave” anyway, as if men aren’t civilized enough to enjoy recreational activities in a house? In other words, this is a derogatory phrase built on stereotypes.
- To avoid using it, describe a room as what it actually is: a den, a game room, a family room, a living room, whatever.
- Pets are part of the family – I don’t disagree there at all. But there’s no way you can convince me that you are actually the parent of your pet. (Ew.) This phrase refers to people who pamper and spoil their pets as if they were children. We need to get our priorities straight, people. I’m pretty sure Fluffy or Sugar would be just as happy, if not more, if she were allowed to run free in the backyard naked, rather than be carted around in your purse wearing a pink jacket. In order of importance, children come first, pets come second. I’m in no way advocating abuse or neglect of pets, but they are our pets for a reason. Using “pet owner” should suffice.
- I’m all for coining new words, but this is not a word because a word already exists for the meaning you are trying to get at: “trickery”. You are not filling a gap in the lexicon or even providing a nice, new synonym, so just use “trickery”.
- This is the awkward, monsterish offspring of “giant” and “enormous,” which are synonyms. The word is inherently redundant. Choose “giant” or “enormous”, or, better yet, find something more fun and descriptive, like “mammoth”, “immense”, “titanic”, “elephantine”, or “gargantuan”. These words still pack the same punch, without being overused and repetitive.
Thank you in advance
- Again, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this phrase, but some do feel it supposes that the person you are thanking is, indeed, going to do what you asked. It can sound arrogant. Lynn Gaertner-Johnston’s blog Business Writing suggests these alternatives: “Thank you for considering my request”, “I will appreciate any help you can provide”, “I will appreciate your help with this situation”, or “Thank you for any help you can provide”.
Are there any other good replacements for the banished words? Or any other words that should be banished?