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Picture: 123RF/lightwise
Picture: 123RF/lightwise

Forget slashing the booze or downloading another mindfulness app – if you’re looking to do some self-improvement as we edge our way into the new year, might I suggest some light lexicon lifting?

The US’s Lake Superior State University (LSSU) has just released its annual Banished Words List. Perhaps nixing the entries that it thinks should be vanquished for 2022 is a good place to start. 

The varsity has been compiling this cheeky inventory since 1976 to “uphold, protect and support excellence in language by encouraging avoidance of words and terms that are overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, clichéd, illogical, nonsensical — and otherwise ineffective, baffling, or irritating”. It’s a catch-all definition for a plethora of linguistic evils, and this year the list is made up of the following:

  • Asking for a friend
  • New normal
  • Circle back
  • Wait, what?
  • Deep dive
  • You’re on mute
  • Supply chain
  • That being said
  • No worries
  • At the end of the day 

Googling reveals that the phrase “wait, what?” is used predominantly by Americans, so goes over most of our heads. The term “supply chain” is a humdrum commercial addition, triggered by a year of Covid disruptions and shipping delays. But what about the rest?

Beyond a proliferation of self-proclaimed epidemiologists, the term “new normal” is one of the worst outcomes of the pandemic. It’s overplayed virus-related cousins include “superspreader”, “antivaxxer”, “jab”, “reached the peak”, “flatten the curve”, “booster”, “variant”, “long Covid” and “social distancing” (which was on the LSSU’s list last year). No one will be sorry to see the back of endless viral waves and their accompanying nomenclature.

“You’re on mute” is, of course, a Covid-induced staple. Hopefully this year will see less WFH – “working from home”, another tired saying – and Zoom tedium. With any luck we’ll be meeting in the flesh again, and when we do, let’s try to ditch the robotic, turgid work jargon that’s peppered e-mails for two years. LSSU is right – “circle back”, “deep dive” and their ilk must go. Mind you, some people would be rendered permanently mute if they couldn’t rely on corporate patois. 

A friend said that using the phrases on the LSSU list is a sign of a lazy mind. He’s right, but that being said (see, it’s too easy), I’m just going to have to embrace my inner verbal sloth because there is no way I’m relinquishing “no worries”. 

I bandy about the antipodean phrase, often in a shoddy Aussie accent, and with “mate” tagged on for extra flair. The LSSU team has disdain for this Vegemite-adjacent tic because the “phrase incorrectly substitutes for ‘You’re welcome’ when someone says ‘Thank you’”. Come on! Peppering conversation with all the flourish of an Akubra-adorned Sheila endlessly droving cattle around an Outback farm shows style. Plus, surely some phrases get airtime because they have quirk and sum up a sentiment perfectly. Also, I believe “no worries” actually translates to “no problem” – what do a bunch of academics know? 

So, in conclusion, “no worries” is going nowhere, but I will try to cull some of the other offending terminology I’ve picked up. Though whatever I do, there’s no pleasing everybody – and to quote a crazily overrun SA favourite – that is what it is.

Buitendach is a contributing editor to the FM

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