Sunday, February 13, 2011

Put These Words on Ice

I had never heard of Lake Superior State University before. Using my
incredible, almost Holmesian powers of perception, I deduced it was
somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Superior, which sits atop the state
of Michigan.

I was correct. In fact, it’s in Sault St.Marie, Mich., a town I
imagine remains encased in ice half of the year and where the
inhabitants still pay for their groceries in beaver pelts.

It turns out that the good people at Lake Superior State while away
those long winter months putting together a document they call the
“Annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse,
Over-use and General Uselessness.” They’ve been doing it for 36 years.

And I’m glad they do. It’s clever, thought-provoking and pretty much
spot on.

I’m also glad because I needed something to write about this week and
the State of the Union Address turned out to be as exciting as the
treasurer’s report at a PTA meeting. On the “You Lie!” scale, 10
representing shouted insults directed at the President by
scarlet-faced morons, and 0 indicating deep sleep, this year’s SOTU
speech rated about a 2.

But enough about that. Lake Superior State’s banished words and
phrases this year include such worthy entries as “epic,” “fail,”
“viral” and the ever popular “mama grizzlies.”

Some highlights:

“Epic” to me signified something Cecil B. DeMille committed to film.
But recently, it has come to mean anything above average. Therefore,
your Chinese take out last night was an “epic meal” and your
8-year-old Suburu is an “epic” automobile. As one contributor noted,
“epic” needs to be banished until people recognize that echoing
trite, hyperbolic Internet phrases in an effort to look witty or
intelligent actually achieves the opposite.

Same with “fail” which now signifies anything that is a mistake.
Watch any You Tube clip of a skateboarder falling on his head and it
will be labeled “fail.” As if we needed to be told. Those who use it
endlessly fail Basic Language 101.

“Viral” has come to mean something that spreads on the Internet, for
example, “that skateboarder falling on his head video went viral.”
Where I come from, it means “of, pertaining to, or caused by a
virus.” I vote we quarantine this new, diseased meaning.

“Wow factor.” It was an instant cliche the first time it was uttered.

“A-Ha moment.” It signifies the moment you understand something.
Can’t we just say that?

“BFF.” It means “best friends forever” in text talk. But now there’s
BFFA for Best Friends for Awhile. Stop it before it spreads.

“Man Up.” “A stupid phrase when directed at men,” a contributor
observed. “Even more stupid when directed at a woman, as in 'Alexis,
you need to man up and join that Pilates class!'" Which raises the
question: Do the ladies “woman up”?

Back story: “"This should be on the list of words that don'at need to
exist because a perfectly good word has been used for years,” wrote
one contributor. “In this case, the word is 'history,' or, for those
who must be weaned, 'story.'"

Courtesy of Sarah Palin we have “mama grizzlies” and “refudiate.” I
actually thought her use of “mama grizzlies” was kind of cute,
especially as a way to frame her hunter/gatherer political views. As
for “refudiate,” all of us butcher the language from time to time.
Her sin was comparing herself to Shakespeare as a wordsmith.

“I’m just saying.” A phrase used to diffuse any ill feelings caused
by a preceded remark, according to the Urban Dictionary. As in,
“Sarah Palin is a Shakespearean wordsmith. I’m just saying.” Or, He:
“That dress doesn’t fit you right.” She: “Are you saying I’m fat?”
He: “I’m just saying.”

Back in 1976, when this exercise started, the list included
“scenario. It can be roughly translated as ‘I don't know what had
happened (or will happen) but this is a scenario.’ Means: ‘I'm making
this up.’”) and “Implement and Viable - Gobbledygook disguised as
intelligence: as in ‘that is not a viable alternative which we can
implement.’ which means ‘We don't want to do it and think you have a
crazy idea here.’”

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