I originally sat down with a gleam in my eye, ready to blast out a piece on “Words That Should Die.” But then I started to feel like a murderer.
Words have long been my friends. They’re the reason poetry rhymes, dictionaries exist, and the pizza guy gets all eight toppings right. They’re also my main way of making a living.
So I certainly don’t want to kill them. But that doesn’t mean I have to love, or even like, all of them. And once I started my highly academic research into words that should die (by throwing a question post on Facebook), it became clear there are plenty of words people hate.
Perhaps even more interesting than what words we hate are the reason we hate them – a fact pointed out by fellow poet and writer John Proctor. Two of those reasons became clear right off the bat:
- We hate words that have become tired, cliché, overused.
- We hate words that are associated with things we find disagreeable.
After combing through the exceptional lineup of entries, and combining them with the list of distasteful words I had already compiled, we end up with a subjective list of the worst of the worst words and phrases in each category.
Tired, Cliché and Overused
At the end of the day
People have been trying to snuff out this tired-old phrase for decades. It originally appeared on Lake Superior State University’s Banished Words List in 1999, but you’ll still hear it kicking around TED Talks, corporate meetings and political debates. Seems the day will never end for this one.
Another one that pops up like an unwanted mole, “circle back” likes to invade corporate speak and emails trying to sell you something. “Let’s circle back in a week to see where you’re at.” It makes me think of swarming sharks doing a second round on the chum they missed the first time.
This one was kind of cute the first time it showed up in marketing to describe a product or service that really did make a huge difference in the way of doing things. Then it got ugly. And weak. It’s now used to describe everything from shoelaces to toothpaste.
Nothing is ever perfect. Salvador Dali said so. Yet that doesn’t stop the legions of people using the phrase “Perfect” in response to, well, everything. “I just pulled dog hair off my sock.” Perfect.
While it’s tons of fun to make up words, “impactful” is actually considered a real word by some dictionaries. It also made it onto the 2018 Banished Words List. Real word or not, it’s pretentious, annoying, and sounds like something painful that needs a root canal.
Use of this one has been on a dramatic climb since 2000. When will it end?! Theory here is it finally sunk in that there is no such thing as an original idea. But if you tell people the new stuff is really the same old stuff, no one would care. Yet call it “reimagined” stuff – and people will buy!
Looks like this one hit its peak around 2016 and is heading back down on the popularity scale. While it’s been used to death on B2B websites that promise to help you “leverage your strengths,” it always makes me think of jamming a crowbar under a car to lift it off something or someone that just got run over.
Big-time COVID word used to describe “reimagining” your business so you don’t go under. Like the 20,000 Etsy shops that suddenly started selling masks. Makes me think of this ab-twisting exercise contraption my mom had in 1978. Or a pivot joint, like the elbow. This word gets dinged for overuse as well as its disagreeable associations.
Words with Disagreeable Associations
Just like nothing is perfect, nothing is normal, either. A health teacher taught us that back in sixth grade. There’s no “normal” height, weight or nose size. Just average, above average, below average.
This term ranks below average for its overuse and association with COVID. Besides, if there were a normal, it would be boring (says the gal who tied for Most Eccentric in high school).
Shelter in place
While this term has become associated with COVID, it dates back much further. It also used to make sense. It originally meant to stay in or enter the nearest indoor facility as the hurricane, tornado or wartime bombs were about to hit. Using it as an ominous way to say “stay home” is irritating. It also makes me want to run out into the middle of a field without shelter, just to rebel.
This word was invented to instill guilt, second-guessing and regret. “I should have done this or that.” “Should I do this or that?” “I really should, even though I don’t want to.” As a wise person once said: “Don’t should yourself.”
Although these words and phrases are bothersome, it does seem kind of harsh to say we hate them. After all, it’s not the words’ fault they became despised. They didn’t ask to become used too frequently or with mangled meanings. They were happily sitting on the page, wanting to help us.
Instead of banning words, my pal Todd Goldberg says we need more words, along with the education to use them properly. That would clear up a lot, especially if you throw in a thesaurus. That way the same words and terms are not used to the point of exhaustion. Let’s keep our words fresh and fun – even when they’re associated with things we may not find all that appealing.