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September 25, 2021

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An epic fail of words

There’s ‘wow factor’ in list a group would like banished from the language

To say the English language is dynamic is an understatement. Words are being minted — for better or worse — all the time. And that can be particularly annoying to language lovers, particularly those at a small Michigan college.

For the past 36 years, Lake Superior State University has issued its annual list of “banished words” on Dec. 31. With tongues planted firmly in cheeks, the list-makers finger words and terms deserving banishment for “mis-use, over-use and general uselessness.”

The words that make the list typically are a good reminder about the year gone past because they come from current events and everyday life. The 2010 elections were featured prominently on the list.

“Man up” was banished. The phrase made national headlines when Republican Sharron Angle painfully used it during a debate with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Sarah Palin, the Tea Party Republican from Alaska, who has a colorful — and painful — way of using the English language made the list twice. “Mama grizzlies,” which she uses to refer to conservative women, is banned, as is “refudiate,” a word she accidentally coined on Twitter.

The American people may be amused by such words, but the list-makers want “the American people” banished because, as one person who nominated the term said, “Aren’t all Americans people?”


The word mavens in Michigan also turned their attention to the electronic world, upset with the use of Facebook and Google as verbs, and they didn’t like the abbreviation BFF — best friend forever — which has reached the linguistic equivalent of running fingernails along a chalkboard. As well, the university included “viral,” which is what online videos “go” when they become popular, because the word has gone viral.

The word “epic” made the list because its misuse has become, well, epic. The once heroic grandeur of the word has been minimized as people use it to describe embarrassing mistakes and snowboarding moves. The word “fail” has also been banished. A fail can be any type of humorous or embarrassing failure. (Fails often go viral — just Google the term — and can be described as epic.) But the corruption of the word as a noun or adjective earned it banishment.

The phrases “I’m just sayin’ ” or “just sayin’ ” are also fails. The phrases are often used to try to ease any hard feelings by what a speaker has just said. To the language mavens it’s infuriating and redundant. “Obviously,” one nominator said, “you are saying it ... you just said it!”

“Wow factor,” “a-ha moment” and “backstory” also made the list, as did “live life to the fullest,” all of which have become cliches.

It was, once again, a busy year for the folks at Lake Superior State, who obviously want to see the language used properly. We appreciate their zeal, but don’t expect these words to be minimized or banished any time soon.

Part of the fun of the language is that it lives life to the fullest and changes as culture changes. The way the American people use English is epic. There’s a wow factor when someone coins a good phrase. When it wears out or fails, there’s an a-ha moment and the word or term is refudiated.

Just sayin’.

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