The Most Overused Words of 2012

By Mark Nichol

Words are sometimes randomly reincarnated to serve new purposes, and usually, the new usage is anything but offensive, and its connection may even be obscure: Does anyone object to the use of the word plane (meaning, basically, “surface”) to describe aircraft? Often, however, the extension of a term to a new connotation invites contempt. Here’s a rundown of some of the online commentary about new senses of words that have worn out their welcome.

The business blog Quartz published an article about “the most misused word in 2012”: disrupt, which in the commercial world is used in the context of companies that suddenly and dramatically alter their focus or product(s); other tiresome Wall Street jargon includes the similar pivot as well as innovation, which almost invariably refers to strategies that are anything but innovative — but the word, presumably, still catches the eye of investors and customers.

LinkedIn recently listed the top ten words and phrases people use on the networking site to describe themselves to potential employers and clients: Creative, organizational, and effective have remained in the top three positions for two years in a row, followed this year by motivated, “extensive experience,” “track record,” innovative, responsible, analytical, and “problem solving.” (How, then, does one market oneself without resorting to such overused terms? Describe how you are creative, organizational, and effective rather than simply typing the words.)

Similarly, the Shift Communications PR Agency published a graphic displaying the supposedly substantive words most prevalent in press releases. Trailing global, the clear leader, were forward, leading, international, growth, and “well positioned.”

Every year, Lake Superior State University invites nominations for inclusion on its Banished Words List: This year’s roster includes amazing, blowback (“resistance or usually negative reaction to an action or a proposal”), and ginormous (a portmanteau word derived from gigantic and enormous). Among the phrases on the list are “baby bump” (“visual evidence of pregnancy”), “man cave” (a female-free — except for the bikini babes on the beer posters — refuge for the man of the house, especially when he’s in the doghouse), and “thank(ing) you in advance,” widely considered a discourteous courtesy in a business email or letter.

The Atlantic Monthly’s online version, Atlantic Wire, offers “An A-to-Z Guide to 2012’s Worst Words”, which includes disrupt and “baby bump” but also derides the use in technological contexts of curate (which is just a fancy way to say “link”) and ecosystem (referring collectively to similar digital devices or formats). Meanwhile, epic, used as an adjective to describe a supposedly remarkable experience or phenomenon, is among a slew of pop-culture terms singled out for retirement.

And then, of course, there’s fail — used as a noun to describe a botched effort — which is itself now frequently deemed a failure.

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19 Responses to “The Most Overused Words of 2012”

  • White Ink

    “Describe how you are creative, organizational, and effective rather than simply typing the words.” Here goes:

    Our company consistently comes up with ideas unconsidered by other businesses. We sort all incoming business and work to allow our employees and customers to understand what we are doing. When we do business with you, we will always deliver what you paid for and help you as much as possible.

    Huh. I suppose it can be done.

  • Mary

    “Thank you in advance” has been a pet peeve of mine for years. It’s always courteous simply to thank someone, even if it’s only for the courtesy they’ve extended you by reading your letter. Thanking someone in advance carries the connotation that if you don’t do as I ask, my thanks will be retracted. A simple “thank you” suffices very nicely.

  • Val B

    Curate is not a fancy way to say link. Why would think that? The Apple AppStore is curated. You think they just link? That’s kinda funny.

  • thebluebird11

    Ooooh…OK…I think I have done the “thank-you-in-advance” thing, or maybe I’ve phrased it as “thank you for your time” or “thank you for your attention to this matter,” or some such. Sometimes, depending what I’m requesting, I feel that a brief “thank you” sounds more like a polite way of saying “or else.” Like when someone has parked his car across your driveway and you ring his bell and say, “Please move your car. Thank you.”
    IMO, “baby bump” is a trashy phrase that is tabloid-worthy only, suited to people who constantly have their noses in other people’s business because their own lives are pathetic.
    “Epic” and “fail,” often combined, might still be used occasionally and humorously, I guess, among people who would not normally use them, (like my friends in the over-50 crowd). But those words have probably worn out their welcome in the 20- and 30-something age groups.
    “Ginormous” first came to my attention some years ago, IIRC, in an animated movie, the name of which escapes me, but it involved a very large (ginormous) girl. I didn’t like the word then, and my feelings haven’t changed, especially as it seems to be pronounced with a long “i” (as in “giant”). It just sounds as if someone is trying too hard; I think gigantic and enormous are sufficient, and smooshing the words together doesn’t make the object any larger. I say retire it without benefits!

  • Fred

    As a reader of AOL and Huff Post (Huff and Puff) daily, three words/phrases come to mind. The previously mentioned ‘baby bump’, as well as ‘stunning’ and ‘flaunt’.
    I do not think they can write an article without using at least one of these. I keep trying to find an article using all three.

  • Andy Knoedler

    I’m glad to see that “iconic” has finally died a well-deserved death and doesn’t appear on anyone’s list.

  • Kimberly

    “Describe how you are creative, organizational, and effective rather than simply typing the words.”

    This mirrors the suggestions I give my students learning to write essays. I suggest they share an experience reflecting their character as opposed to saying, “I’m a very strong person.”

    Love it! Thank you.

  • Mike Allen

    Nice choices. Unfortunately, they all appear to be gleaned from writing. I believe the most overused word in the English language is one that doesn’t appear on the samples you’ve shared with us from these sources, but it’s one I hear every day.

    It’s “awesome.” That’s the word itself, not a descriptor of the word, as one might expect, since the word is ubiquitous.

    Today, nothing is stupendous, magnificent, marvelous, exemplary, or any of 30 or more similar adjectives. Those words have all been supplanted by “awesome.” So what do we now use to describe something that is literally “awesome,” meaning “worthy of awe?” Such events are destined to be “really awesome,” “majorly awesome,” or perhaps “wicked awesome” in some areas of the Northeast.

    There’s one good thing about “awesome,” though. “Awesome” isn’t easily used in other forms, such as “awesomeful” or “awesoming.” If that had been the case with “impact,” we wouldn’t hear local news anchors using some form of that overused word at least 10 times in every newscast.

  • Nelson Carter

    Why is it that almost everyone (including President Obama) now says “is is” or “is, is” when a simple single “is” would do the job? Could it be a result of President Clinton’s weasely statement “That depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”? That statement, by the way, is grammatically correct, unlike the now common useless repetition of the verb.

  • Jim Weldon

    Most irritating word of 2012? Absolutely.

  • Warsaw Will

    I hate the whole internet “fail” culture. There are one or two ‘language’ ones, that seem to exist only to find fault with the language of others, and especially punctuation errors. A sort of language schadenfreude. They think themselves very clever and oh so superior, but their understanding of why these errors occur or whether they are in fact very important seems to be non-existent.

    It’s not exactly last year’s, but I could happily say goodbye to “going forward”.

  • Ken

    How about “partner” as a verb? It seems that anytime two people or two companies decide to simply get along together for a while they’re “partnering.”

  • Ric Veness

    In my opinion, the most overused, and probably misused word in 2012, is “issue”. Issue is used to replace a multitude of much better words that people seem too lazy to think of. Two other words that always appear in architectural and art publications are “juxtaposed” and “bespoke”; just because they are trendy. Much the same as “paradigm” was the trendy word a couple of years ago.

  • Nelson Carter

    If you say something is “incredible,” why should I believe it?

  • Lady Jewels Diva

    1 – Actually!

    I am so sick and bloody tired of that word being used incorrectly. People think putting it in their sentences somehow makes it more important and mean more but it doesn’t. As far as I’m concerned “actually” is only used to correct someone, which I do coz I know more than them.

    2 – Lol!

    3 – totes

    4 – amazeballs

    Jesus Christ, the words that Gen Y have come up with are the most annoying, nail on chalk board grinding pain in the ear ever. Gen Ys need their tongues cut out so we don’t have to listen to any more stupid words and phrases.

    absolutely totes amazeballs!

  • Nancy Richter

    I strongly hope that baby bump will disappear soon. I hadn’t heard the term until I read it in a novel and then saw it again in something else I read. The first time I read it I felt very uncomfortable. The next time I thought, “Maybe it’s just me”, trying to talk myself into accepting it. I’m glad to know it’s not just me!

    Nancy Richter

  • Sally

    I agree with all of the above.

    My favourite word for excision is ‘passionate’ as applied to anything but interpersonal relationships.

    Especially when used in the context of how one earns one’s daily bread, this turn of phrase, like ‘110%’ and “be willing to go the extra mile,” is one of those turbo-capitalist expressions that ultimately imply “you’d better (pretend to) enjoy kissing ass or you’ll be thrown back onto the scrapheap!”

  • rAY

    Fail,awsome is actually awsomely awsome, not.

  • Lissanne / SORTED!

    Sally- I’m with you, I freaking LOATHE overuse of the word passionate. Says nothing at all other that ‘not creative’.

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