As we ring in a new year, it might be a good time to ring out some tired old words and phrases.
That's the theory behind the new "List of words to be banished from the queen's English for misuse, overuse and general uselessness," which a Midwestern university issues each year in an effort to dispense with some of the worst verbal clutter.
Topping the 38th annual list is "fiscal cliff," the phrase that Americans nominated, more than any other this year, to be nixed from our everyday vocabulary. Are you listening, Congress?
Rounding out the list are 11 other coinages, in this order:
2. Kick the can down the road
3. Double down
4. Job creators/job creation
5. Passion/passionate (as in the way a business claims to feel about the service it delivers)
6. YOLO (short for "you only live once")
7. Spoiler alert
8. Bucket list ("It's such a grim way of looking at 'what I want to do,' and often it is in selfish terms," wrote nominator Shea Hoffmitz of Hamilton, Ontario.)
The problem, of course, is that just saying certain words should be expunged doesn't mean they will be.
As people complain about hearing "fiscal cliff" and related budget jargon too often, it's worth noting that "deficit reduction plan" made the banished-word list back in 1991, and "sequestration" in 1987. Those will probably continue to surface in the language whenever budget pressures are the big topic in politics.
Still, at a time when people are communicating more than ever thanks to social media, it's useful to get this annual vocabulary critique, which is issued by wordsmiths at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., each year.
Think of it this way: Amid the thousands of tweets and news flashes and blogs arising each minute, someone is hitting the pause button and asking us all to use words that are clearer, fresher, and more fun to read. The language does tend to renew itself over time, as phrases fall in and out of favor, but efforts to shape and speed the process are welcome. (Confession: This writer has aided and abetted the publication of "fiscal cliff" many times. But in so doing, it's become more apparent that people don't need to be reading that so often.)
How about picking one or two items from that list and banishing them from your communications? And we all might think of additional clichés or imprecisions to start avoiding.
In fact, Lake Superior State is already accepting nominations for its next list. (To submit nominations, click here. Before writing, the university asks that you check the "complete list" in an adjacent link, to make sure your nomination hasn't already been banished.)
Plenty of phrases that were fit to be banished in years past have indeed largely faded out. Examples include "happy camper" (from the 1993 list) and "been there, done that" (1996).
Don't be surprised, though, if efforts to banish certain items are unsuccessful. Past lists have included "absolutely!" (1993), "political reality" (1983), and "cult classic" (1989). Over the past year, the adjoining of "political" and "reality" has occurred more than 1,000 times in major newspapers alone, according to the Nexis database.
To help get the next list going, here's a suggestion: Maybe prose writers can refrain from highlighting a big thought by putting a period after every word in what once would have been a sentence (as in, "Please. Stop. Writing. Like. This.").