2012 list of banned words includes ‘fiscal cliff’ and ‘YOLO’

Posted at 11:05 AM, Dec 31, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-31 11:24:50-05

Every New Year’s Eve, the self-proclaimed “word gurus” at Lake Superior State University release their 38th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for “Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.”

Said tradition dates back to Dec. 31, 1975, when former LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe hatched the idea with some colleagues to banish overused words and phrases from the language.

The wordsmiths introduced the first list on New Year’s Day 1976 and it has stayed the course into a fourth decade.

Nominations are sent to LSSU throughout the year, mainly through, and the list now includes more than 800 entries.

A committee makes a final cut in late December. 

Lake Superior State University’s 38th annual list of banished words:

— Fiscal Cliff
“(We’ve) lost sight of the metaphor and started to think it’s a real place, like with the headline, ‘Obama, Boehner meeting on fiscal cliff’.” — Barry Cochran, Portland, Ore.

— Kick the can down the road
“Much the same as ‘put on the back burner,’ these two phrases still have heat and are still in the road. Kick this latest phrase down the road.” — Michael F. Raczko, Swanton, Ohio

Double Down
“This blackjack term is now used as a verb in place of ‘repeat’ or ‘reaffirm’ or ‘reiterate.’ Yet, it adds nothing. It’s not even colorful. Hit me!” — Allan Ryan, Boston, Mass.

— Job Creators/Creation
“One of the most overplayed buzz terms of the 2012 presidential campaign. Apparently ‘lowering unemployment’ doesn’t have the same impact.” — Dennis Ittner, Torrance, Calif.

— Passion/Passionate
“As in ‘that’s my passion.’ Please, let’s hope you mean ‘enthusiasm.’ ‘Passion’ connotes ‘unbridled,’ unmediated by reason and sound judgment. Passion is the stuff of Ahab, Hitler, and chauvinists of every stripe, and terrorists.” — Michael T. Smith, Salem, Ore.


Who needs “carpe diem” when you’ve got yolo — branded on Twitter, in pop song lyrics and in celebrity tattoos.

Now it looks like yolo’s in trouble. Twitter hashtag #In2013NoMore includes Tweeters swearing off yolo forever. Yolo is annoying because it encourages “wannabe Twitter philosophers who think they’ve uncovered a deep secret of life,” wrote Brendan Cotter of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, who nominated the word for the list.

Sadly, poor little yolo’s story is all too common, says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley School of Information.

“These words that are often very effective and attractive have very short half-lives because everybody picks them up at once, and they lose their punch,” says Nunberg, who calls this phenomenon the “nine-day wonder.” “If the words even last nine days at all.”

— Spoiler Alert
“Used as an obnoxious way to show one has trivial information and is about to use it, no matter what.” — Joseph Joly, Fremont, Calif.

— Bucket List
“The expression makes me cringe every time I hear it — and we’ve been hearing it for several years. I’m surprised it isn’t already in your master list. Let’s emphasize life and what we do during it. It’s such a grim way of looking at ‘what I want to do,’ and often it is in selfish terms.” — Shea Hoffmitz, Hamilton, Ont.

— Trending
“A trend is something temporary, thank goodness; however, it is not a verb, and I’m tired of news stations telling me what trite ‘news’ is ‘trending.'” — Kyle Melton, White Lake, Mich.

— Superfood
“It’s food. It’s either healthful or it’s not. There is no ‘super’ involved. — Jason Hansen, Frederic, Mich.

— Boneless Wings
“Can we just call them chicken (pieces)?” — John McNamara, Lansing, Mich.

— Guru
“Unless you’re teaching transcendental meditation, Hinduism or Buddhism, please don’t call yourself a guru just because you think you’re an expert at something. It’s silly and pretentious. Let other people call you that, if they must.” — Mitch Devine, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

Words and phrases that almost made the list — but failed: “wheelhouse,” “skill set.”

F-word and A-word

The F-word and the A-word are often nominated for the list, but university PR director Tom Pink says offensive words aren’t considered. “We try to keep it lighthearted.”

Nunberg’s book, “Ascent of the A-Word,” follows a**hole from its invention by WWII GIs to today, where the word has become a “basic term that a lot of us use all the time in our emotional and moral lives, for example when somebody cuts us off on the highway.”

In fact, Nunberg says words from the 1940s — like the A-word — are more likely to survive then words invented in the ’90s. “You’d think more of the older words would be obsolete now, but no.”

More words are being invented now than ever before — partly because of easy and fast communication on the interwebs. “But the more words that are produced increases the competition,” says Nunberg. There’s a kind of process of natural selection.

The words that survive often “become signs of important social movements or changes,” he says.

The loser words will die — never to be spoken again by countless mouths of future generations.

*source: Lake Superior State University