What's the good word? 


In the wake of nine eleven, surgical strikes, friendly fire and bringing the evil doers to justice, we can begin to use our social doppler radar to brainstorm and find some edgy frigging solutions to our domestic problems like faith-based issues, bi-partisan unity and reality TV.

The above paragraph wasn't intended to mystify and mortify you. It was meant to mystify and mortify the people who compile the "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-, Mal- or Over-Use, as well as General Uselessness," a bit of business taken care of by Lake Superior State University.

The list, according to the Associated Press, has been compiled annually since 1976 from words and phrases nominated by a public grown weary of their use in the media, as trendy slang or simply as sloppy language. That first paragraph includes almost all of the banished words for 2002, especially "nine-eleven," or "9-11," a shorthand that many people feel trivializes events that should be referred to as "the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."

Miguel McCormick of Orlando scored five placements on the list by nominating redundancies such as "forewarn" ("but if not, then warn after the fact") and "a delay due to an earlier accident" ("as distinguished from a delay caused by an accident yet to occur").

True grit

People tend to think that writers are automatically interested in verbal pickiness, which isn't quite true of me. I am, however, interested in what annoys people. Therefore , I think the list is a good idea, especially because the website where you can read it contains 27 years' worth of irritation. It's fun and nostalgic to see what words and expressions had people gritting their teeth in years past, words such as "detente" and "macho" (both in 1976); "it's the pits" (1980); " -- busters" (as in "Ghostbusters" and fuzz busters, 1985); "same difference" (1986), and "Read my lips," "infotainment" and "fresh-frozen" (all from 1989).

Then there's "yo" (1990); "You go, girl," and "Don't even go there" (1997); "You the man" (1999), and interestingly, in 1994, "Baddaboom, Baddabing," submitted for overuse by one George Carlin of Los Angeles.

A few of the choices just seem fussy. For example, one of this year's selected phrases was "in the wake of ...," submitted by someone from Detroit who wonders, "What was ever wrong with the word 'after?'" On the other hand, what was ever wrong with simply finding a different way to say things? You'd think people who display an interest in language would like the idea of it being more varied, not less. You also get the idea that this person from Detroit might be the kind who gets tweaked -- upset, annoyed, irritated, wadded up, snippy, put-out, bothered, perturbed, troubled, pissed -- over the fact that there are dozens of ice-cream flavors or ways to order coffee.

Check it, 'Out'

Varied usage is one thing. But I definitely can see the problem with overusage and propose that the following also be culled from the lexicon:

"... and that's what's wrong with this country." Everything from pop music to buying on credit seems to turn into a national crisis.

"Could the same thing happen to your family?" Inevitable TV news-story tagline, in case you didn't know that you, too, are a person in the world and hence vulnerable to the bad things that TV news thrives on.

"It's not like when we were kids." I'm guilty of this one, but the fact is, it has been decades since many of us were kids. If life was still the same, we'd have to dig up Rod Serling so he could host it.

"Special." A Special Report. A Special Event. A Very Special Episode. Using any word so often automatically cancels out its meaning.

"Fine." A non-answer to the question, "How are you?," which translates as, "I don't want to talk to you about it."

And a couple of points of style rather than substance that I'd like to see gone:

Laugh tracks. The equivalent of a man playing a soundtrack of a woman moaning during sex if he's unable to make it happen for real.

TV station logos in the bottom right corner of the screen. Interferes with the picture, plus why advertise a station the viewer is already watching?

Voiceovers that shriek like a wrestling announcer in an effort to sell everything from movies to Maalox.

The website listed above includes a page to "submit a word for banishment." Surely (which made the list one year), you can think of some of your own. Surely, in fact, you can think of more than I did. And if that's the case, you go, girl. You the man.


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