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Books

Which words would you ban?

3 January 2013

12:38 PM

3 January 2013

12:38 PM

Which words in current use would you ban? Lake Superior State University answers this question each year, with its famous ‘List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness’. Words are recommended by members of the English speaking world, and then selected by the university.

Top of the list is ‘fiscal cliff’: the catchall phrase for the various political (and cultural) difficulties that have arisen from America’s fiscal and economic crises. Opinion is split on which of ‘fiscal’ or ‘cliff’ is the greater offence. Other irate correspondents object to the vague metaphor: is America trying to scale the cliff or trying not to fall off it? Above all, though, overuse is the chief aggravator.

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The list also includes several faddish words from the internet and popular culture. ‘YOLO’ (You Only Live Once) is banished for the sin of stating the bleeding obvious. ‘Bucket List’ must go; likewise ‘Trending’. ‘Superfood’, ‘guru’ (unless you are a Holy Man of eastern religion) and ‘passion/passionate’ (in place of skill and/or enthusiasm) are all for the chop. Good riddance.

There are plenty of political words on the list, which is unsurprising given the contempt in which the political classes are held. ‘Kick the can down the road’ is included, justifiably, as a bad cliché (for an explanation of the distinction between good and bad cliché, read this peerless analysis by Dot Wordsworth); and the presence of ‘job creation/creator’ explains why Mitt Romney will not be President.

All of this goes to show how difficult it is to find the right phrase in politics, especially in an era of ‘No We Can’t’. Carol Midgely of The Times (£) has offered a few more words for exile:

‘I’d pay money, for instance, not to hear any politician in 2013 use the phrase “the right thing to do”. Or “the squeezed middle” or “a big ask” or, worst of all, “strivers” — that patronising term some have for people who aren’t paid as much as them.’

I’d pay money to have the phrase ‘I’d pay money’ outlawed; but, other than that I can’t quibble with Midgely. ‘The right thing to do’ is a wet way of talking about the serious business of re-moralising public life and policy; it is so feeble that it sounds dishonest. ‘A big ask’ is worthy of Alan Partridge. ‘Strivers’ is a horrible way to flirt with the electorally vital ‘squeezed middle’, which was much too catchy for its own good. There’s the rub: effective political slogans are so few and far between, they soon die of overuse.

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