NOW I hadn’t heard of Lake Superior State University until the other day. But that’s fair enough as Lake Superior State University almost certainly hasn’t heard of me either.
Each new year, the university in Michigan compiles a list of words that deserve to be banished. Here is a paragraph corralling some this year’s proscribed words…
You, sir should focus less on your Bête Noire and step outside the town-hall meeting echo chamber, leave off making that historic listicle, cover up your dadbod and stop talking so bigly about your selfie-drone. And while you’re about it, please don’t get your dandruff up or we shall ghost you…
The university provides a glossary for these words.
“You, Sir” is said to hail from an era when duels were still fought; today’s pistol fights take place online, where this phrase has found new favour.
“Focus” is a good word overused when “concentrate” or “look at” would do fine.
“Historic” is “thrown around far too much” say the compilers. And they will get no argument from me on that score. “Bête Noire” is also invoked too often – “After consulting a listing of synonyms, we gather this to be a bugbear, pet peeve, bug-boo, pain, or pest to our nominators.”
“Town hall meeting” is out of date as candidates seldom gather there anymore – “Needs to be shown the door along with ‘soccer mom(s)’ and ‘Joe Sixpack’ (banned in 1997).”
Me and my three-pack agree with that.
“Echo chamber” is dismissed obliquely – “Lather, rinse, and repeat. After a while, everything sounds the same.”
As for “historic”, the compilers suggest that is “thrown around far too much” and its use should be left to “historians rather than the contemporary media”.
“Listicle” is a bullet-point list designed to attract clicks on the internet, while “Dadbod” is the “flabby opposite of a chiselled-body male ideal”.
“Bigly” – now this is as interesting as it is irritating. Its use is thought to have been promoted by Donald Trump as he thumped a hole in that tub during his woefully successful presidential campaign. Was he misheard saying “big league” or did he “utter this 19th-Century word that means, in a swelling blustering manner? Who cares? Kick it out of the echo chamber!”
The “selfie drone” hands the “irritating habit of constantly photographing and posting oneself to social media” to a flying camera. “How can this end badly?” say the compilers, putting on their irony overcoat.
The committee was puzzled why the malapropism “Get your dandruff up…” was nominated this year. Another comical mishearing, this time of “get your dander up”.
As for “Ghost”, that is to “abruptly end communication, especially on social media”.
I came across all this at work on New Year’s Eve. Some of the words and phrases were familiar, some not: ‘ghost’ was new to me in its modern sense, although not to a younger colleague opposite.
The story I was editing mentioned a parallel survey at Detroit’s Wayne State University which aims to exhume words that have fallen out of favour. It end-of-year list included “absquatulate” – which means to “discreetly and abruptly leave a place, such as a gathering or party, without informing the host”. In short, an old-fashioned version of “ghost”.
The Lake Superior word-watchers also mention “post-truth”, the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year – “To paraphrase the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts.”
How true. I am glad to have discovered this list of words we should lose, and will look out for it next year. But now it is time for me to absquatulate.