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  • Jan Flynn

Stop Speaking GOAT

You’re not still saying that, are you?

This year’s Banished Words list is out

Actually, it’s been out since New Year’s Eve, but if you’re still using banished words, the year is young. Now that the Super Bowl is behind us, we can focus our energy on clearing up our communication.

Jargon, buzzwords, nonsense terms, lazy filler words, all the trite and overused terms that seep from popular culture into our speech and writing like toxic sludge — they’re tantamount to the worn-out junk that accumulates in your closets, the dustbunnies under your bed, the mystery containers full of fuzzy somethings at the back of your refrigerator shelves. Time to toss ’em!

Just like spring cleaning, our vocabularies benefit from annual decluttering. And thanks to Lake Superior State University in Michigan, we have expert guidance. The LSSU School of Arts and Letters has been publishing a Banned Words List of ten words, phrases, or expressions annually since 1976.

Who knew?

Apparently, a lot of people. LSSU receives thousands of nominations every year for the list, which it has since copyrighted, as its recent press release explains,

” . . . to uphold, protect, and support excellence in language by encouraging avoidance of words and terms that are overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, clichéd, illogical, nonsensical—and otherwise ineffective, baffling, or irritating.”https://www.lssu.edu/traditions/banishedwords/

As a word warrior myself, I applaud their mission

It’s good to know I’m not the only one who has to clench their jaw while suppressing the impulse to correct someone’s grammatical abuses, or whose eyeballs roll when confronted with clichés. As Peter Szatmary of LSSU says, “Words and terms matter. Or at least they should.” I’m in full agreement with Mr. Szatmary. And I refuse to feel bad about that.

Note that I did not say that I refuse to “feel badly,” one of those unfortunate misconstructions of speech I hear often, and which always makes my toes curl. Need I point out that in this usage, the word “feel” is a linking verb rather than an action verb, and to proclaim that one feels badly is to admit to a malfunction of one’s sensory equipment?

“Feel badly” didn’t make the list this year. Maybe I’ll nominate it for 2024. I haven’t checked the entire list of past selections, of which there are more than 1,000. But there are many past words and terms that I am happy to see kicked to the curb (a phrase that might end up on a future list, come to think of it), including “bromance,” “surely,” “viable alternative,” and one that always makes me scream silently, “at this point in time.”

Let’s move on to what made the list for 2023

In the spirit of contributing to better speech and clearer thought, I offer the 2023 list of the words and phrases the LSSU judges wish to see eliminated from discourse — with my personal take on each one. To see the judges’ reasoning behind each selection, click here to access the aforementioned LSSU press release, or go to lssu.edu/banishedwords — where you can also make nominations for the 2024 list.

1. GOAT

The Greatest of All Time? Says who, and upon what authority? And how can an acronym that has been applied equally to Jeopardy champions, athletes from a myriad of sports, and chicken wings carry any substance?

GOAT might have been cute once, but I agree with the LSSU judges: by now it’s just a meaningless bleat.

2. Inflection point

Does anybody even know or care what this is supposed to mean? Why not just say “turning point” instead? Must we all prove we went to college?

3. Quiet quitting

“Trendy but inaccurate,” say the LSSU judges, and I can’t disagree. Declining to work more hours than one is paid for, or to refuse to be endlessly available to one’s boss outside of agreed-upon hours, is not the same as quitting. If the idea is to promote better work-life balance (another term to retire?), this one is counterproductive.

4. Gaslighting

I take some issue with this selection. Yes, it has become popular, perhaps overly so. But I’m not sure that awareness of what constitutes gaslighting has fully made it into general understanding. Those who nominated it feel that it’s now used too casually, thereby softening the seriousness of its meaning (sinister psychological manipulation that seeks to make its target distrust their own perceptions). That is indeed a concern. But the same could be said of the word “trauma” these days.

5. Moving forward

This one should have been thrown out with the trash years ago. I had a boss who used it so much it made my ears twitch, and that was in the early ought’s.

6. Amazing

I admit to leaning on this one myself, out of laziness. Is my friend’s new haircut actually amazing, or do I just like how it looks on her? I pledge to do better.

7. Does that make sense?

Innocent on its face, this term is often used as a disingenuous request for confirmation. It’s also used to excuse sloppy speech or thought. One would do better to ask this question of oneself before opening one’s mouth or setting one’s fingers to the keyboard.

I hope that makes sense.

8. Irregardless

I’m frankly shocked this hasn’t made the list until this year. It’s NOT EVEN A WORD. There is no “ear” in “regardless,” people.

9. Absolutely

So prevalent and persistent that it was first banished in 1996 but has made the list again. It’s another lazy, threadbare word that I am also guilty of using. This year, I’m absolutely giving it up.

10. It is what it is

Another repeat, originally banished in 2008. Having had this term repeatedly lobbed at me by a financial planner as he blandly sought to explain away an error that cost me thousands, my hatred of it burns with the heat of a thousand suns.

Of course it is what it is, because what else could it be, and what is your point, exactly? Just stop.

I am grateful to the LSSU School of Arts and Letters

Now that I know, however belatedly, that it exists, I will be paying attention to its annual list. If there is a #WordsMatter movement, count me among its ardent supporters.

As Mark Twain — no slouch when it came to word choice — once wrote:

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”amanet.org

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