Banishing Act: (Amazing) Words That Need to Go

Every New Year’s Day, Lake Superior State University unveils its list of Banished Words
Banishing Act: (Amazing) Words That Need to Go
Illustration by James Yang

Every New Year’s Day, Lake Superior State University unveils its list of Banished Words. The annual roster of overused words and phrases is a gratifying read for those who care about language and take pleasure (or displeasure) in observing trends in public discourse. In honor of that list — a tradition begun in 1975 by the Sault Ste. Marie school — we offer a few of our own nominations for banishment. Look for the official LSSU list at

> Mom

Its ascendancy into overuse began with the identification of the supposed “soccer mom” political demographic. Now that sweet title of familial affection is being used ad nauseam by talking heads seeking female viewers so coveted by advertisers. The problem? “Mom” feels too intimate to be used in a public context. Whatever happened to “mother”? And do we need to define women by their offspring when men in the public eye are so seldom labeled as “dad”?

> Wall Street to Main Street

What was once a nice, stylish turn of phrase became a cliché almost overnight during the bailout debate.

> Love you

The sentiment isn’t the issue. But saying it all the time — as the sign-off for every phone conversation, for example — has a watering-down effect.

> Kinda/sorta

While OK for kids, adults are using the hedge words to soft-pedal their opinions — why, we don’t know.

> Pamper

Our recent good economic times — and probably also the influential Sex and the City — had us all making appointments for some “pampering” in an “oasis” or “sanctuary” (see next).

> Sanctuary

See preceding.

> Oasis

Can we start calling it our bathroom or backyard again?

> We’re so blessed

Tossing the term around too often just sounds smug.

> Graduate high school

Anyone who says he “graduated high school” needs to return there for some remedial English classes. One is graduated from a school. The really sad thing is, many college graduates are saying they “graduated college.”

> Have a good one

One what?

> At the end of the day

This one is replacing “bottom line” as a cliché of business speak.

> Green

We lived through the years of “X” being used to describe anything young or hip and “E” as a prefix for all things electronic. Now it’s green’s turn in the cliché lexicon. Let’s leave it to Spartan fans.

> Gone missing

Whatever happened to “disappeared” or “vanished,” or even just “missing”? “Gone” implies that a person is voluntarily MIA.

> Amazing! Awesome! Perfect!

Words best used to describe, say, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are being watered down to the point where they could apply to a lunch-hour coney dog.

> Absolutely

This word is horribly overused. A simple “yes” or “right” suffices.

> This is not your mother’s …

(… or your fathers, grandmother’s, etc.)
Advertisers like to employ this cliché to emphasize newness. Problem is, sometimes grandma’s was better.

> Answer back

Sports jargon is a major offender of the language, and we’ve come to accept that. But answer back? Come on.

> Impact

Does anyone say affect or effect anymore?

> Breaking-news alert

This is the local TV news version of crying wolf. Alerts — which at first sounded breathlessly like the one-time, legitimate and attention-grabbing “news bulletin” — now barely turn our heads.

> A whole nother thing

Nother is not a word, nor does it make sense as a contraction for “another.” A whole another thing? One should say, “a whole other thing.”

> Hero

The indiscriminate use of the word “hero” to describe any person whose action merely shows that he or she did the right thing should be stopped. Someone who calls 911 to report a crime in commission is not a hero.

> My people

It doesn’t matter what racial or ethnic background you claim to be a part of. This super-sensitive and smug expression is divisive and exclusionary.

> Hey

What happened to “hi” or “hello”? This faux-folksy greeting is particularly common among the national morning-news personalities, who apparently are trying to impart a common touch.

> You guys

Yes, we’re a casual culture, but there ought to be limits. Addressing people as “you guys” (common among wait staff) is obnoxious, particularly if there are women in the group. Women are not “guys.”

> Working to clear

Why can’t anchors simply say an accident is holding up traffic? Why is it always working to clear? People just want to know when it has been cleared.

> My bad

Any adult who uses this term to acknowledge wrongdoing belongs in a playpen.