A list that tracks the most overused words of 2011? How amazing is that?
Oops! "Amazing” tops the official "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness," released Friday by Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. This is the 37th year the university has compiled a list of the hoariest, most annoying, and most clichéd words and phrases emanating from weary (or lazy) jawbones this year.
“With so much media and so many more opportunities to communicate, a lot of people find they get lazy and get stuck on a word or phrase to express themselves as the easiest way to get their point across,” says John Shibley, a public relations officer for the university who has helped compile the list for the past 15 years.
The university cobbles the list together from submissions streaming in from around the world, including Australia and Western Europe. This year, about 4,000 nominations arrived electronically.
“Amazing” earned the top spot because of its ubiquitous use to describe anything, great or small, no matter its relative merit. Examples: “That Hot Pocket I just ate was amazing!” Or, “The French Revolution was amazing!”
Frequent use by television jabbers Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, and every run-of-the-mill red carpet celebrity is blamed for spreading "amazing" into practically every conversation heard on television, streets, subways, or dinner tables. At least, Mr. Shibley says, its use replaces that 1980s chestnut, “awesome.”
“Amazing” received 1,500 nominations, says Shibley. “The mailbox was packed for ‘amazing’ – that one just slammed to the top of the unpopularity contest this year."
The list, which dates to 1975, began as a New Year’s Eve game concocted by former Lake Superior State University public relations director Bill Rabe. In the pre-Internet days, the university used to receive as many as 800 nominations by letter or postcard. The proliferation of media now generates thousands of submissions worldwide, but also more opportunities to suck a word or phrase dry.
“There’s ample opportunity for a buzzword or buzz phrase to get overused. The environment’s very rich to draw from,” Shibley says.
Here are the other overused words the list’s gatekeepers hope will one day be banished:
Baby bump. A cuter way to describe a woman carrying an unborn child than the word “pregnant.”
Shared sacrifice. Petitioners interpreted this phrase, popularized by political backbenchers to corporate middle managers, as a stealth way to get others to give more without having to do anything themselves.
Occupy. The Occupy Wall Street movement that gained traction in the fall popularized this word that now is used to describe anything that protesters feel needs scrutiny. Examples: Occupy Flash Player and Occupy Sesame Street.
Blowback. Corporate jingoism meaning resistance.
Man cave. Men no longer have home offices, dens, or workshops. Instead, they now have “man caves,” a phrase many petitioners say was popularized by home design and home-buying TV shows.
The new normal: Normal wasn’t good enough. It had to be freshened up by the word “new.” Marketing trends experts and self-help gurus popularized this phrase, which they use to define a new method or environment that is here to stay – until the new "new normal" shows up, that is.
Pet parent. Some animal lovers shun suggestions that people "own" dogs or cats. This phrase evolved to describe a gauzier relationship with domesticated animals, which has the possibility of irking actual human offspring.
Win the future. President Obama and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich overuse this phrase, among other politicians. It means to galvanize supporters, but many petitioners say it is ultimately meaningless jingoism.
Trickeration. This isn’t even a real word, but it is often used by football play-by-play broadcasters to put trick plays in the context of science.
Ginormous. Another fake word used to describe something larger than large and bigger than big.
Thank you in advance. The closing line of many job applicants' cover letters, which many petitioners said sounds condescending and almost a dare.
The university doesn’t expect any of the banned words or phrases to disappear anytime soon. After all, “24/7” (2000), “mute point” (1990), and “ball park figure” (1980) are past winners and remain widely used today. The hope is that people think about what they say and the words they choose to say it.
“If people are passionate about language, that’s a good thing,” Shibley says.