Let me ask you this: Would a story that unpacks a list of tiresome words and phrases be impactful or a nothingburger? Worse, could it just be fake news?
Northern Michigan’s Lake Superior State University on Sunday released its 43rd annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness. The tongue-in-cheek, non-binding list of 14 words or phrases comes from thousands of suggestions to the Sault Ste Marie school.
This year’s list includes “let me ask you this,” “unpack,” “impactful,” “nothingburger,” “tons,” “dish,” “drill down,” “let that sink in,” and the top vote-getter, “fake news.” The others are “pre-owned,” “onboarding/offboarding,” “gig economy” and the redundant “hot water heater.” Also on the list is the Trumpian Twitter typo “covfefe.”
While the list contains a little political flavor, Lake Superior State spokesman John Shibley said he had expected more given the highly divisive 2016 election and a year of deepening divisions in government and the US electorate.
“It wasn’t as focused on politics in a very dirty sense,” he said. “Most of the nominations were well thought through ... considering how the year was.”
As evidence, he points to “fake news,” which garnered between 500 and 600 votes. The phrase has been leveled against entirely fabricated reporting, stories that contain errors or inaccuracies, and those with a critical tone. It has even been wielded as a cudgel against entire news networks. It was also found to be the second most annoying word or phrase used by Americans in an annual Marist College poll, behind “whatever.”
“I think a lot of people know fake news when they see it. It can be propaganda, it can be satire,” Shibley said. “It’s used deliberately to paint a certain story or notion as not being true.”
While some words are perennial nominees, others really speak to a particular time and may soon lose relevance. “Covfefe” — which was contained in a fragmented Tweet sent from President Donald Trump’s account on May 31 last year — became shorthand for a social media mistake, Shibley said. “It’s the ‘pet rock’ of this year’s list,” Shibley said, referring to the fad product born and banished in the 1970s.
Lake Superior State and Marist have company in tracking and trumpeting mass word usage.
“Youthquake,” defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people,” is Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year. Oxford lexicographers said there was a fivefold increase in use of the term — coined a half-century ago by then-Vogue editor Diana Vreeland — between 2016 and last year. The word has been used to describe youth support for Britain’s Labour Party and the election of 30-something leaders in France and New Zealand.
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is “feminism.” Lookups increased 70 percent over 2016 on Merriam-Webster.com and spiked several times after key events, such as the Women’s March on Washington in January last year.
Another Michigan school takes the opposite approach: Detroit’s Wayne State University attempts through its Word Warriors campaign to exhume worthy words that have fallen out of favor. This year’s list included “blithering,” “gauche” and “mugwump,” which refers to a person who remains aloof or independent — especially from party politics.
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