The fact that there are always new words is among the many things I love about American English. Any noun is fair game to become verb. We allow popular use to change grammar rules. We adopt words and phrases from every other language on the planet.
Spoiler alert: the downside of all this freedom trending now is that this is the time of year when English word-watchers everywhere list their pet peeves in word use. While some of them get a bit self-righteous, the lists are generally good reminders of words to avoid.
Misused, Overused or Generally Useless
Lake Superior State University recently published its 38th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness, based on nominations submitted from the United States, Canada and beyond.
Among the dirty dozen that made this year’s list is “trending” of which Kyle Melton of White Lake, Michigan said “A trend is something temporary, thank goodness; however, it is not a verb, and I’m tired of news stations telling me what trite ‘news’ is ‘trending.’”
Melton has a point in terms of overuse, but his assertion that a trend is not a verb is so ten seconds ago. (Please feel free to submit “so ten seconds ago” for next year. I already checked and it’s not on the list yet.)
Yesterday Ragan.com posted “10 Industry Buzz Words That Need to Die.” Mobile topped the list.
And a few weeks ago, British PR agency Twelve Thirty Eight released Buzz Word Report: January 2013, an annual review of the PR jargon and practices that inflame journalists, as determined by surveying British journalists.
Among the words that presumably cause British journalists to suffer near internal combustion is ‘iconic’. Admittedly, when applied to everything from Kate Middleton’s hair to Colleen Rooney’s platforms as they suggest, I can concur with their recommendation: “Please can we allow this word the respect and privacy it deserves at this special time so that it can recover its true meaning?”
And it sheds a great deal more understanding on the puzzling cynicism by some British partners of my university who insisted that I refrain from using the word iconic in talking points for the opening of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.
Take a look at the museum (and where it is) and tell me that architecture doesn’t recover the true meaning of the word iconic.
For the early 70s retro chic amongst us
Despite my iconic experience, I think I like Twelve Thirty Eight. Their website claims: You’ll never hear us say “awesome”, “circle back”, “ping me”, “super-exciting” or “reach out”. We’ll never start a sentence with “So,….”. We don’t have a boardroom filled with double beds, a pool table, a company bar, a pinball machine, a vintage caravan parked in the middle of the office, fake grass on the floor, pet monkeys, sponsored dogs or an organic goats milk decaf latte maker. Our holiday plans are unlikely to leave you feeling inadequate.”
They say their average age is 41 (which they call “early seventies retro chic”) and that most of their ideas “end up in the bin.”
And I really liked their advice that writers should try to write in English. Specifically, that we should read back what we are sending out to see if we could imagine a real person ever saying it out load.
They illustrated it with one random example of a chief executive’s quote:
We are entering a new global paradigm in business whereby operatives are no longer satisfied with having a physical office in which all deals must take place. Enterprise is expanding beyond the four walls of the company headquarters and businesses therefore need tools that facilitate a much more mobile and fluid sales team. As we infiltrate new markets around the world, we expect to roll out our offering on a wider scale and enable businesses to benefit from our market leading product.”
Buzz word-laden jargon like that makes using iconic a relatively petty concern.
One million strong, Gangnam Style
According to Oxford Dictionary online English most likely has more words than any comparable language.
The impossibility of determining the exact number of words in English didn’t stop Global Language Monitor from publishing their 13th annual estimate (1,019,729.6 as of January 1, 2013). GLM also declared ‘Gangnam Style’ as the top phrase of the year and noted that ‘Frankenstorm,’ Superstorm Sandy’s colloquial name, “went from a meteorologist’s lips to a globally recognized neologism within a few hours.”
I don’t particularly like Frankenstorm. But the fact that one person could create a globally recognized neologism in a couple hours is kind of amazing.
There will always be curmudgeons ranting about the overuse of phrases, the use of meaningless words and the like. If you take a look at the lists, you’ll be sad to notice some you’ve used, but, now properly shamed, probably won’t use again.
It’s a good idea to consult these lists.
But, I also will take a moment to appreciate a language that puts at my disposal more than one million words, and counting. Not to mention that it offers the possibility that any one of us could create a globally recognized neologism of our own. But hopefully, a better one than Frankenstorm.