Each new year, Lake Superior State University, Michigan's smallest public university, takes on a literary duty. In a gimmick to get publicity for the institution of approximately 3,000 students, it solicits nominations of words and phrases that don’t work or are just plain annoying.
“It was during a New Year’s party 30 years ago when LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe and some colleagues cooked up a whimsical idea to banish overused words and phrases,” according to Tom Pink, Lake Superior’s current spokesman. “On Jan. 1, 1976, with ‘tongue firmly in cheek,’ Rabe took his first crack at it. Much to the delight (or chagrin) of word enthusiasts everywhere, the list endures into a fourth decade.
“Many people take the list entirely too seriously,” he added. “Most recognize it for what it is, though -- a humorous look at the language we use and an interesting way for LSSU to gets its name in front of more prospective students.”
After last year’s tight Presidential race, politics colored the banished word list, with “blue states/red states” and “flip flopper” taking some top honors.
The university has received thousands of nominations for its list of banished words and phrases, which now stands at nearly 800. This year’s list of words and explanations, culled by an informal committee from almost 2,000 nominations received largely through the University’s Web site, follows:
- SURREAL -- One part opiate of the masses, 13 parts overuse. Oddly, news anchor and television small talk is becoming more surreal. “Dreams are surreal, not daily adjectives.” -- Tracy from Murray, Ky.
- HUNKER DOWN -- To brace oneself, in anticipation of media onslaught. Trotted out in reports about everything from politics to hurricanes. “I have a hankering to ban all of this hunkering.” -- Kate Rabe Forgach, Fort Collins, Colo.
- PERSON OF INTEREST -- Found within the context of legal commentary, but seldom encountered at cocktail parties. “People with guns want to talk with you.” -- Melissa Carroll from Greensboro, N.C.
- COMMUNITY OF LEARNERS -- A five-dollar phrase on a nickel errand. Value-added into many higher education mission statements. “Not to be confused with ‘school.’” -- Jim Howard from Mishawa, Ind.
- UP OR DOWN VOTE -- A casualty of today’s partisanship. No discussion on this one; the committee just tossed a coin. “I see a bright future for ex-senators as elevator operators.” -- Allan Dregseth, Fargo, N.D.
- BREAKING NEWS -- Once it stopped presses. Now it’s a lower-intestinal condition brought about by eating dinner during newscasts. “Now they have to interrupt my supper to tell me that Katie Holmes is pregnant.” -- Michael Raczko, Swanton, Ohio.
- DESIGNER BREED -- Many nominators consider this a bastardization of dog breeding. It may be a good line to use on angry neighbors when an un-neutered dog escapes. “When you mate a miniature schnauzer to a toy poodle, it’s not a ‘Schnoodle,’ it’s a mongrel.” -- George Bullerjahn, Bowling Green, Ohio.
- FEMA -- Dedicated to the memory of a great federal agency consigned to the ash heap of parody. “If they don’t do anything, we don’t need their acronym.” -- Josh Hamilton, Tucson, Ariz.
- FIRST-TIME CALLER -- Preamble often heard on talk radio. “I am serious in asking: who in any universe gives a care?” -- Miguel McCormick, Orlando, Fla.
- PASS THE SAVINGS ON TO YOU! -- Marketing catch phrase that became a lost-leader long ago. “Read: Pass the markup along to you.” -- C.W. Estes, Roanoke, Tex.
- 97% FAT FREE -- Adventures in delusion. “Still has 3% fat . . . accept it.” -- Andrew Clucas, Canberra, Australia.
- AN ACCIDENT THAT DIDN’T HAVE TO HAPPEN -- Best-laid mayhem. “This means some accidents need to happen, for whatever reason, I can’t figure.” -- Thomas Price, Orlando, Fla.
- JUNK SCIENCE -- Banished from the Marketplace of Ideas. “It’s not scientists who are using this phrase so much as the people who practice junk politics.” -- Ron LaLonde, Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada.
- GIT-R-DONE -- (Any of its variations) It’s overdone. “There’s no escaping it. It’s everywhere, from TV to T-shirts,” says Amanda Tikkanen of LaGrange, Ind. “Please tell me when we’re done with this one.”
- DAWG -- No designer breed here. Someone should wash out this Spot. “Even parents are starting to use it!” -- complains Mrs. Swartz’s Fifth Grade Class in Church Road, Va.
- TALKING POINTS -- Cover your ears! “Topics which will please those you want to impress.” -- Michele Mooney, Van Nuys, Calif. Joe Wonsetler of Swanton, Ohio, believes the phrase was created after PR staffers stopped attending seminars on how to put a positive "spin" on their press releases.
- HOLIDAY TREE -- Many salvoes were fired during this past season’s “war on Christmas.” At the risk of jumping into the breach, the committee agreed with those who nominated “Holiday tree” as a silly name for what most folks hold as a Christmas tree, no matter your preference of religion.