Friday, January 18, 2013

"What's the Bad Word?"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I know cliches like the back of my hand and I’ve always thought that people should avoid them like the plague.

That’s why I am happy, at this point in time, to know that, going forward, two distinguished word gurus are thinking outside the box and, at the end of the day, fighting the good fight to keep the English language free from hackneyed phrases that I can’t wrap my head around because, after all, it is what it is.

I refer to Tom Pink and John Shibley, who work at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and have just come out with their annual Banished Words List.

Pink, director of the public relations department, and Shibley, PR writer and photographer, describe themselves as “co-conspirators” of the list, which this year includes such annoying words and phrases as “fiscal cliff,” “kick the can down the road,” “bucket list,” “double down,” “trending” and “YOLO,” which stands for “you only live once.”

Since Pink and Shibley are trending, I decided to double down and -- spoiler alert (which also made the list) -- call them because, of course, YOLO.

“I’d like to have some talking points with you guys,” I said.

“You mean you want to discuss the Banished Words List?” asked Shibley, adding that “talking points” made the list in 2006.

“That’s affirmative,” I replied. “I have a few suggestions that, at the end of the day, should go on the list.”

“Like the phrase ‘at the end of the day’?” asked Pink, who said it was banished in 1999 but that “people keep using it.”

“That’s just one of them,” I said.

“We always welcome new entries,” said Shibley, noting that people can go to the Banished Words website,, and make their own suggestions.

“I’d like to nominate ‘going forward’ and its equally evil twin, ‘moving forward,’ which have the language going backward,” I said.

“They made it in 2001,” Pink informed me.

“I can’t wrap my head around it,” I said.

“If you tried,” Shibley said, “you’d get a headache.”

“Then I wouldn’t be able to think outside the box,” I said.

“It’s better than thinking inside the box,” Shibley pointed out. “You might suffocate. I’d poke holes in the box. In fact, Tom and I poke holes in everything we read or hear. Our language needs some fresh air.”

“We all have our linguistic annoyances,” Pink said. “One of mine is ‘preplanning.’ It’s like planning to plan. Or ‘preregistration.’ If you have to register before an event, when do you preregister -- before the event is even planned?”

“Then you’d have to preplan,” I said. “How about recipes that tell you to ‘preheat’ the oven before cooking dinner?”

“As opposed to turning it on afterward?” Pink asked.

“Exactly,” I said. “Of course, if your dinner is on sale at the supermarket, you’d be getting a good price point.”

“Good point,” said Pink.

“It is what it is,” I noted.

“That one got on in 2008,” said Pink, who called the Banished Words List an “unpopularity contest,” adding: “We try to have fun with it.”

Said Shibley, “We’re looking for good, witty nominations. Even if there’s a word or phrase that has already made the list, you can nominate it again so it will get back on. We want input, which made the list, that is ongoing, which also made it.”

“At this point in time,” Pink said.

“That one was on the original list in 1976,” said Shibley, who added that he and Pink appreciated my interest in joining the fight to rid the English language of the annoying words and phrases that have so negatively impacted (which made the list) our talking points.

“At the end of the day, I’m happy to help,” I said. “Going forward.”
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima


PJK said...

As a writer/editor, I am beside myself with delight to finally see some linguistic light at the end of the tunnel. As an iconic, recovering bipartisan, I needed healing from witnessing too much language abuse.
Early on, I thought my symptoms might be from ADHD or obesity, but no. I had merely drunk the Kool-Aid of those who say it like it is. And I know what the meaning of is is.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I put my foot down and broke the glass ceiling. I think I can say: We are all better off because of it.
You're aces, Jerry.

Dave Astor said...

Any cliched phrase on that present, past, or future list "is what it is," "was what it was," and "will be what it will be."

And the person (you, Jerry) who did this hilarious column "writes like a dream." said...

This is hilarious, Jerry! I hope they included "gone missing." Since when does anyone go to get missing (intentionally or otherwise)? I guess "is" is just too common a word.

Jerry Zezima said...

Thanks, Pete! I am beside myself, too, but that's because nobody wants to sit next to me. Still, I'm glad that, at the end of the day, you liked the column, although I am distressed to know that, going forward, you broke the glass ceiling. I hope you didn't get hurt at this point in time.

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Dave! You comment is what it is, which is terrific, at this point in time, at the end of the day or anytime at all.

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Kathy! I am not missing your point about "gone missing" and will use it if I write another cliche column. Going forward.