In the season of fresh starts and fading hopes, I always like to turn to the good people at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Much of our resolve at this time of year is about letting go of bad habits. Lake Superior State is here to help with its 2020 “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Overuse and General Uselessness.”
It’s a fine endeavor but a bit like commanding the waves to stop coming ashore. Birds gotta fly. Fish gotta swim. People gotta word – often badly.
Lake Superior State has done this service to humanity for 45 years, with no visible sign of success. I can respect that.
This year’s words and phrases needing at least a timeout include “influencer,” “quid pro quo,” “totes,” “living my best life” and “literally.” Lake Superior State describes that last one as “one of the few words in English that has begun to serve as its own antonym.” Sadly, maddeningly, that is true.
It’s amusing to look back over 45 years of lists and recall what once pushed our buttons.
Some words and phrases, mercifully, seem to get burned out and eventually fade like “epic,” “fail,” “epic fail,” “perfect storm,” the gratuitous and condescending “man up” and – I’m hoping here – this-ageddon and that-pocalypse. Let’s see how TV plays the next snowstorm.
But some we’re just stuck with. I had to suppress a laugh of disbelief and disdain the first time I heard “proactive” and then figured out what the person was trying to say. But that was a few decades ago, and the word has had staying power. (Full disclosure: I got “proactive” on Lake Superior State’s list in 1991. It did no good.)
It’s the same with “viral,” “stakeholder,” “bucket list,” “Google” as a verb and the slippery “new normal.” “Curate” has escaped its natural habitat, the museum, and now springs up like kudzu. How far off is AI-powered curation?
Others – “trending,” “hack,” “selfie,” “selfie stick” – seem to fill a need, so what’s the harm? And “people using their cell phones to make shallow judgments without context, indulge their emotions, revel in their outrage, and demean and insult others” is too long even for a hashtag, so “Twittersphere” will do.
Lake Superior State says “OK, boomer” made a late charge in 2019 and got on this year’s list. As a marginal Baby Boomer, I take neither delight nor offense at this phrase. The young use it to dismiss the old, which after all is their job. I’d say as a whole the boomers have fully earned most of the derision coming our way.
Besides, it was a particular wave of boomers who famously said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Things do come around.
Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6365 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s lost somewhere in the Twittersphere, clinging to @FoxEJC.