Words and Phrases Now Banished

Jan 3, 2020

Politics, television, and social media were once again rich sources for abuse of the English language during the past year. And they're the main contributors to the latest list of words and phrases, "Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness.

Herb Trix has more.

The 2019 banished list is the 45th to be issued from Lake Superior State University in Michigan. In past years, it was overseen by the public relations office, but this year it became the responsibility of the English department. 

Mary McMyne is an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing, and a member of the Banished Word Committee.

"I think the list serves a really interesting role. There are a lot of organizations nationwide that nominate a word of the year - like the Merriam Webster dictionary does one and the Association of Linguists does one - but they just nominate one word of the year and it's experts nominating that. This list, as far as I know, is the only list where the American populace can actually nominate words. So it's a way for people to be word watchers themselves, and sort of keep an eye on the language."

And the winner, hands down, with the most nominations, is the phrase "quid pro quo."

"In Latin it just means something for something, and the first reported instance of the phrase is all the way back in the 16th century. It started with apothecaries when they would substitute one medication for another. Sometimes they would intentionally substitute them but other times they would fraudulently substitute one medication for another. And as the years passed it started to be any substitution of one thing for another and then it started to have the negative connotation that we have with the phrase now where it means pay for play."

From the pretentious section of the list comes the word "artisanal," which appears on a lot of menus, trying to make your water or salad dressing or sandwich sound more exciting.

And from the explosion of foodie shows and sites comes "mouthfeel."

"That was one that surprised me too. Basically it's the word that's used to describe the texture of a food in your mouth. But "texture" isn't good enough, you have to say "mouthfeel" which is kind of gross because where else are you going to put your food ? Are we going to talk about "footfeel" or "handfeel?"

And then there's "literally."

"The word literally is a synonym for actually. And the way that it's been changing over the years is that it  has become its own antonym, so instead of meaning actually,  people are using it for emphasis. So I could say, "I was so surprised, my head literally exploded." Which would mean my head actually exploded, but people are using it for emphasis meaning that my head almost exploded. So it's a very interesting word that's come to mean its opposite." 

McMyne says an important source of words and phrases for the banishment list in recent years has been social media, including "friend" as a verb, "google," "selfie," and "ghosting." The latest additions thanks to social media, including "chirp," "jelly," and "tote."

"One that was new to me was chirp and I talked to my students about this one - they said that it was an insult that Millenials use to talk about somebody who is insulting someone, so it's a verb. Sort of like tweet is a verb where you say 'I tweeted about that.' But chirp is talking about something negatively - I could get chirped for being out of touch, for not knowing that word." 

 "Jelly" now is an abbreviation of the word jealous, while "tote" is another abbreviation - for totally. 

And if there's some use of a word of phrase that really bothers you, some new and terrible pretension, or let's face it, something on social media that us older people don't understand, Lake Superior State University accepts nominations all year round - just go to lssu.edu/banished.