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.