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.


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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Show comments
  • Alistair Kerr

    “Humanist,” as currently misused. Strictly speaking, a humanist is someone learned in both Latin and Greek (the Humanities) and, by extension, Ancient History and Ancient Philosophy. For example, Sir Thomas More and Desiderius Erasmus, both committed Christians, were humanists. Currently, humanist has acquired the meaning of a person who is not religious and is opposed to religion but has some vague humanitarian commitment. This is incorrect and these “humanists” should find another name for themselves.

  • rndtechnologies786


  • Jambo25

    ‘Going forward’ as in ‘Going forward from here……. Largely redundant wordage.

  • Picquet

    “Modernise”. In the Blairist sense, this meant to destroy anything with a hint of respected traditional value. It was not only overused by them, but acted upon to enormous effect.

  • timinsingapore

    Four more, all favourites of columnists :

    ‘Not’ – as in, ‘he’s a favourite with the voters, not.’
    ‘Hey’, to introduce some meaningless assertion. Supposed to make the writer come across as approachable, fun, one might even have said ‘bubbly’ (see post above), were it not for the depressing context in which that word is often used…
    ‘Natch’ – I don’t know what it means, and the writers probably don’t either. Probably American.
    ‘Edgy’ – used by BBC management to explain the gratuitous use of obscene language.

  • NHWilliamson

    How about DECIMATE: unless it refers to killing one in ten?

    • Eddie

      Oh I think you have to give up on that one. It’s been used to describe the general killing of a large number of people for a very long time. Words evolve.
      People (i.e. politicians) do always use prevaricate when they mean procrastinate though.

  • hexton

    “End of” without bothering to finish the phrase; “Get over it.”

  • timinsingapore

    ‘Space’ – as in ‘the HR space’, or ‘in the marketing space’
    ‘Vibrant’ – in any speech or publication by a politician, planner or property developer
    ‘plc’ – as in ‘UK plc’, closely allied to ‘open for business’
    ‘broad church’ – in any party-political context
    ‘British’ – used by UKIP as a synonym for ‘white, non-European’
    ‘overweight’ – mealy-mouthed euphemism for ‘fat’
    ‘bubbly’ – frequently used in press reporting after untimely deaths, connoting excessive enthusiasm for horizontal jogging, probably under the affluence of incahol

  • wicketkeeper


  • Simon Morgan

    ‘Responsibility’ – on the grounds of ‘General Uselessness’.

  • alexsandr

    like the unnecessary likes you like get in like speech from some people, like.

    And tv presenters who tell their interviewees that everything is fantastic.

  • racyrich

    Amazing – the only adjective in existence, apparently.

    Much-loved – of a recently deceased, usually a much-despised criminal gang member.

    Targetted – another noun transformation. What’s wrong with aims and aiming for things?

    Train tracks/stations etc – No, they’re railway stations.

    In collision with – the cowardly, politically correct way the media describes how an innocent object was hit by a larger, at fault object. E.g. the pedestrian was in collision with a car. FFS!

    Period – as in full stop. When did we stop saying full stop as meaning the last word? Bloody yanks as ever.

  • Dramatist

    I would impose fines for misuse of “impact.” It’s fine when used to mean “a strong effect,” but here in the U.S., people misuse it, ignorant that it means “to bring together.” Bad writers have fallen hard for “impact” in all sorts of invented forms: “impactful” and “impactive” are but two grating examples.

    Also here in the U.S., I’ve seen nearly-illiterate writers put on airs by using the English “whilst.” They really should sent to their rooms without their supper.

    I have no problem with “Bucket List.” I have a bucket list, of things I want to die before I die. What else should I call it?

  • Sue Ward

    “Going / moving forward”. WTFs wrong with “In future”?

  • Terry


    ’cause ’tis wrongth.

  • Teacher

    I would ban the following lefty nightmares: heritage, eco, key (stage, worker etc.), community, equality, minority, sharing, caring, racist (applied to everything & everyone the speaker disagrees with), sharp-elbowed, worried well, leafy suburbs (the last three as thinly veiled terms of disparagement),environment, prudence (as a euphemism for imprudence or outrageous fecklessness), literacy (meaning illiteracy and pronounced ‘litrasee’). If I had to choose one, it would be ‘eco’ as a prefix to any scheme about to disfigure and desecrate our beautiful green country.

  • Triple Timbo

    Hard-working families
    Emotional intelligence

    • Austin Barry


  • Eddie

    Incredibly, I would choose ‘incredibly’, which in really incredible word meaning ‘something beyong belief, (e.g. unicorns, pixies and eskimos), yet which incredibly is used so incredibly often by all the incredible media types on our incredibly brilliant TV that it’s incredble meaning is incredibly lost.

    When I was 12 I wrote in my music homework that ‘Mozart died at the incredible age of 35’. My teacher wrote I BELIEVE IT in the margin. I did not understand, so she explained by using the word ‘incredible’ was wrong in a believable instance. My mum and my olkd music teacher and I are right; the BBC and all meeja monkeys (and their incredible proactive diverse teams) are wrong.

    ‘Incredible’ (and incredibly) is a word that must be banned. Maybe every TV presenter who uses it should immediately get £5k docked from their salary each time? That’d stop em!

    It’d also be nice to ban ‘racism’ and ‘racist’ – words which have lost their true meaning through overuse (they are just insults thrown when people want to close down debate and claim a moral high ground that is not theirs to claim). However, I know how many thousands of people’s jobs depend on the race and equality and diversity industry, and wouldn’t wish unemployment on anyone… Damn racists! Incredible, innit?

    • Sarah

      Do you really think you’re in a position to judge on the overuse of words?

      Particularly racist and sexist ones?

      • Eddie

        Oh dear…the racist and sexist race and sex obsessive is back.

        Yes, I am in a position to judge, you ‘obsessive deluded bint (to use Rod’s own words)

        How about banning the word ‘misogynist’ eh?

        It’s a word used by sad women against anyone who disagrees with their weird and mental manhating views (ones not shared with the vast majority of women for whom they claim to speak, of course).

        No word IN ITSELF is sexist or racist you dumb ill-educated manhating muff-cuddler!

        The context and intention of the user gives words values (i.e. opinions) like that – and meanings can change according to context.

        But hey, you are at a low academic level so you won’t understand ANYTHING about semantics or linguistics.

        • Picquet

          I like ‘muffcuddler’. It has a sort of soft, furry luxury about it.

          • Eddie

            Oh I always like making up words and compound nouns/verbs/adjectives: far better than relying on the trite old smelly words that have been done to death by overuse and thus have little meaning and less power.
            Some work; some don’t. But a couple of my coinages seem to have stuck too and spread into usage.

      • hexton

        Are you?

    • timinsingapore

      ‘Incredibly’ goes with ‘literally’, which I see misused ‘literally’ millions of times every time I read a newspaper.

  • Steven McGregor


  • jasonjapanwhite

    “Donald Ducked”

    • Guest

      “Jackthesmilingblack”, which is not even a word!

  • fantasy_island

    Ban yeah, winds me up every time I see it.

  • Laurence

    ‘Giles’ and ‘Coren’.

  • RisingSap

    “Robust” (Whitehall code for “feeble”)

    “Crackdown” (media & politicians’ code for “ignore”)

    “If you like” (the new “you know’ or “er” much favoured by guests on “In Our Time”)

    “Up and down the country” (politicians’ code for anywhere outside Westminster)

    “Top Gear” (BBC code for “Hooligan TV”)

    “Different” (as in “visited 14 different countries” – presumably as opposed to 14 countries that were all the same country)

    “Utilize” (police or local government word for “use”)

    “Park” (as in “let’s park that issue” – code for “ignore”)

    “Medal” (the word which the BBC has turned, without permission, from a noun into a verb)

    “War” (as in “the Afghanistan war” which is code for “military training ground”)

    “Issue” (code to avoid saying “cock-up”, “disaster”, “objection to” etc)

    “Health & Safety Officer” (code for “jobsworth”)

    “Recession” (code for “we’ve spent all the money on weapons and invading foreign countries)

    “Roadmap” (politicians’code for “no policy”)

    “The Reason Why” (the idiot’s phrase for “reason”)

    “Quantitative easing” (code for “making your salary and savings worthless”)

    “No return to boom and bust” (Gordon Brown’s warning that the country is about to go bankrupt)

    Any words uttered by Ed Miliband except “resign”

    • Teacher

      Most amusing.

    • Jack Dawson

      Very good. Robust = feeble is just right. Your list reminded me of “So..” used to start a sentence (scientists in particular seem to do this).

    • chan chan

      A good selection, but you’ve missed out ‘Islamophobe’ (which means “you racist, bigoted, white working class bastard. How dare you question a socialist”)

  • Kevin

    Journalists overdose on this word. It is used in such useless expressions as “New York’s iconic skyline”, “James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin”, “Churchill’s iconic cigar”, “Nelson’s iconic eye patch”. Give it a rest, please!

    Journalists use this as an occasional (capitalised) alternative to “iconic”, as in “THAT dress”, “THAT smirk”, “THAT smack in the mouth”. Same request!

  • Ronglum

    “Like”, “cutting edge”, “nerd”, “geek”, “Tea Party”, “like” again… and again…and again

    • Jack Dawson

      Especially in “I was like…”, meaning “I said…”.

  • Bluesman

    “Free at the point of use” when describing the NHS; it is, of course, pre-paid at the point of use through a mixture of taxes and borrowing.

    “Renewable” when describing energy generation; the tides are not “renewable” nor is the wind, nor sunlight.

    “Progressive” in any context except some Rock Music of the ’60s and ’70s.

  • tomdaylight

    Surely “omnishambles” should be a contender. It’s not even funny now. (Although the “Romneyshambles” variant was.)

    • Eddie

      I agree. So many of these TV words are just gimmicky and last 2 minutes before grating.

      Remember ‘lovely-jubbly’? People actually used to say that too.

      • Bluesman


        • Eddie

          FAB is before my time really!
          But “the thing is, is that people always say thing thing is, is that whatever ” – not just X factor bimbos either – but TV and BBC journalists.
          Ths thing is, is that it’s tautological and unnecessary.
          The other things is, is that it’s not a ‘word’ per se, so would be disqualified from this bad word contest.
          But I thought I’d mention it anyway…

          • Bluesman

            10-4 Eddie

  • HJ777

    “Big time”

  • viva

    going forward at the end of the day sat here…amazing.

  • Cogito Ergosum

    “Compatible” as (mis)used by the computer industry.

  • Jack Dawson


    • Eddie

      And ‘diverse’, surely?

      ‘Vibrant and diverse’ go together, like ‘ebony and ivory, living together in perfect harmony, side by side on my keyboard, oh god I’m bored, I need a wee’ etc…

      Or can one be vibrant without being diverse?


      • Picquet

        Both of these words are code for ‘diseased/filthy’ or ‘grossly overcrowded’. Lagos is one city which deserves them.

  • sir_graphus


    • Bluesman

      Harman. Except in the context of “Harman, no relation”.

    • Austin Barry


  • Troika21


    1) To pass moral judgement, without holding a moral position.
    2) To cast un-cited aspersions on the character of a person or thing.
    3) To imply that an activity should not be done, but cannot think up a good reason why.

    Its a horrible New Labour-ish word, I wouldn’t ban it, just replace it with unacceptable which requires the speaker to specify what the problem is, rather than just imply that there is one.

    • ReefKnot

      Unacceptable is just as bad as inappropriate. They are both subjective. We should bin them both, along with homophobic, islamophobic, hate – crime and vulnerable.

  • Dom B

    Anyone who talks of ‘investing’ ‘government money’ should be publicly flogged as should anyone who uses the phrase ‘raise awareness of’ when they actually mean ‘pontificate about’.

  • Fitzroy

    I would ban the use of ‘pledge’ where it has been substituted for ‘promise’ (breaking a ‘pledge’ doesn’t have any serious meaning for English people, whereas breaking a promise is a serious matter). I never want to see ‘eye catching’ again, particularly in relation to ‘policies’.

  • Louis Bozzi-Catlin

    How about the “wow factor”?

    • Austin Barry

      Yes, that ‘ticks all the boxes’.

  • Andrew Parke

    “Tough decisions”
    That phrase that the coalition agreement seems to state must be chanted at least once a day…

  • Novus

    I could happily see out my days without ever again hearing about some problem, which usually isn’t a problem anyway, being “tackled” by politicians, with its limitlessly condescending adoption of what is now principally football terminology in an attempt to appeal to the proles; equally, if I never again heard politicians speak of money which doesn’t belong to them being “ploughed into” some unnecessary initiative, with the great swathes of agricultural honesty and straighforwardness it implies, I would consider myself blessed.

    • Thick as two Plancks

      Hear, hear about “tackled”.

      Many problems are “tackled” but very few are brought down.

  • Austin Barry

    Business jargon has replaced to ‘contact’ a person with the absurd, ‘reach out’ with its slightly creepy, Savilian, groping connotations.

    • HFC

      …and ‘outreach’, too, not to mention ’embedded’ and for what its worth any multi-syllable word used with incorrect emphasis, e.g., CONtribute .

      • timinsingapore

        Such as REsearch, and temporARily, both favoured by BBC newsreaders of the post-Kenneth Kendall generation.

    • timinsingapore

      Indeed. I discovered ‘reach out’ last year during a series of business visits to New York. It has a certain creepy quality. No doubt ‘contact’ is thought to encourage or condone harassment, but I think ‘reach out’ is far more sinister.

    • Picquet

      Workers at my last employer (a Canadian corporation) used ‘reaching out’ every single time the word ‘contact’ or ‘phone’ or ‘talk to’ was meant. It was particularly in use by the ‘HR’ (personnel) department, who wanted to be seen as caring and compassionate to all of the drones.

  • DM

    “fair” (as in it’s not fair). Very divisive and too subjective.

  • Mike in Preston

    ‘Going forward’ are two words that, when used together, really annoy me.