By Robert Jonathan
The English language provides a beautiful way to communicate, but we could do without a few of its words, right? With New Year’s Eve upon us, the Marist Poll has revealed its list of most annoying words for 2018. It’s also that time of the season for the 2018 words of the year.
The Most Annoying Word Is…
Based on a random landline and mobile phone survey of about 1,000 adults, the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion determined that the dismissive “whatever” is the most annoying word or phrase in casual conversation for the 10th consecutive year.
Following “whatever,” which received 36 percent of the vote to earn top honors, were “no offense but” (22 percent), “you know what I mean” (15 percent), “literally” (14 percent), and “actually” (six percent). The remaining seven percent of respondents were unsure what word caused the most heartburn.
The Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based Marist provides some further background on its 2018 annoying words findings:
“Last year, whatever topped the list with 33%. 23% of Americans chose fake news. No offense, but had 20%, and 11% selected literally. You know what I mean received 10%. Three percent were unsure.
While whatever is most mentioned among Americans 30 and older, residents under 30 say the most annoying word is literally (25%) followed closely by you know what I mean (22%).”
Banished Words List
Michigan’s Lake Superior State University has just released its 44th annual list of words/phrases that theoretically/satirically should be banished from the English language in 2019.
LSSU accepts nominations from all over the world via its website and Facebook page, thereby “allowing us all to start the New Year with a leaner, cleaner vocabulary,” MLive observed.
“Word-watchers target pet peeves from everyday speech, as well as from the news, fields of education, technology, advertising, politics and more. An editor makes a final cut in late December,” LSSU explained.
Going forward into the new year, the list of what are described as misused, overused, or useless words is as follows:
- in the books
- wrap my head around
- OTUS family of acronyms such as POTUS, FLOTUS, SCOTUS
- legally drunk
- thought leader
- most important election of our time
Last year’s inventory included unpack, nothingburger, drill down, fake news, and President Trump’s famous “covfefe” tweet typo. With the continued Trump derangement syndrome permeating most media outlets, the fake news terminology is here to stay.
Additional Words Not to Live By
Like a comfortable hoodie, certain words/phrases fit a situation and provide a shorthand way to get your message across.
However, a lot more of them have entrenched themselves in everyday conversation and the lexicon as clichés or fillers. Some even have outlived their “shelf life” and “sell-by-date,” although your conversational mileage may vary.
In no particular order, here are some additional banishment candidates:
- honestly, to be honest, to be honest with you, to tell you the truth, or any of its derivations [a big red flag; usually subtext for just the opposite–sometimes referred to as a perception qualifier]
- national treasure [usually a fawning way of describing some self-important or overrated pundit]
- you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts
- so [when used as the first word of a sentence–often incessantly used by entrepreneurs who appear on the Shark TankTV show]
- literally [already flagged by the Marist poll, typically vocalized when the speaker means “figuratively”]
- it is what it is
- at the end of the day
- singing Kumbaya
- absolutely [instead of a simple “yes”]
- disruptive [a positive in the context of start-up-venture hype; a negative when the Establishment Swamp complains about President Trump]
- ceiling[as in, “Trump can’t win/has a ceiling of voters”–headed for a recurrence in 2019/2020]
- no problem [instead of saying “you’re welcome”]
- I mean [dropped repeatedly at the beginning of a sentence]
- thank you [instead of an expression of gratitude, it’s used when signifying agreement with what the other person has just said]
- first-time caller/long-time listener or thank you for taking my call [on talk radio]
- it’s all good
- my bad
- check all the boxes
- safe space
- I get it
- binary choice
- throwing someone under the bus
- having someone’s back
- you know what I’m saying (usually framed as a question)
- I don’t have a dog in this fight
- skin in the game
- step up my/your/his/her game
- game on
- bring it
- how ya doin’?
Pressing the Reset Button on These Words
Here is the other side of the coin. Wayne State University’s ninth annual Word Warriors initiative “promotes words especially worthy of retrieval from the linguistic cellar” or rescued “from the brink of obsolescence.”
Also located in Michigan, Wayne State take suggestions from the general public, as well as its from administrators of its Word Warriors website, throughout the year.
The 2018 top-ten list (get your dictionary ready) is as follows:
2018 Words of the Year
Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, the Oxford Dictionary, and the American Dialect Society all announce their often politically charged words of the year on or about New Year’s Eve.
According to Merriam-Webster, “justice” — in its various contexts — is the word of the year based on the number of online lookups at its website .
It was followed by “nationalism,” “pansexual,” “lodestar,” “epiphany,” “feckless,” “laurel,” “pissant,” “respect,” “maverick,” and “excelsior.”
There were no carryovers from the year-end 2017 list, which was topped by “feminism.”
For a number of reasons and meanings, ‘justice’ was on the minds of many in 2018.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) December 17, 2018
“Misinformation” is the Dictionary.com word of the year, accompanied by a long dissertation on its website. Runners-up included “representation,” “self-made,” and “backlash.”
For the Oxford Dictionary, the 2018 word of the year is “toxic.”
The “definitive record of the English language” explained its conclusion as follows:
“The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance… Our data shows that, along with a 45% rise in the number of times it has been looked up on oxforddictionaries.com, over the last year the word toxic has been used in an array of contexts, both in its literal and more metaphorical senses. “
In searches, toxic was most often pared with “chemical,” followed by, as you probably guessed already, “masculinity,” and eight other collocates, including “relationship,” Oxford added.
The American Dialect Society selected “tender-age shelter” as its 2018 word (actually its vocabulary item) of the year. This is a term that probably nobody outside of the society’s apparently “woke” voters every heard of. The organization is evidently not woke enough to realize that family separation at the border also occurred during the Obama administration.
In 2017, “fake news” was its word of the year, and “take a knee” was its political word of the year.
“The wall” is the group’s 2018 political word of the year, and “techlash” is the digital word of the year. Other category winners included “yeet” (which ironically showed up on the LSSU banished words list) as the slang word of year; “Voldemorting” as the most useful word of the year; and “single use” as the most likely to succeed word of the year. #nottheonion is the hashtag of the year.
Down with Uptalk
Circling back to annoying conversational techniques, let’s take a minute to chat about uptalk, or upspeak, a phenomenon that linguists often describe more formally as high rising terminal.
You’ve heard it all over television, and from there it has seeped into day-to-day life. This is the tendency for a speaker to end a declarative sentence as if it is a question. In other words, uptalk is a habit of finishing statement with an interrogative tone, if not an invisible question mark. Somehow this has become cool.
Uptalk makes the speaker appear uncertain, indecisive, or equivocating about even about the most trivial of matters. It also seems to make the speaker sound like he or she is desperate for affirmation from the listener.
Having spread like a verbal virus, perhaps minimizing uptalk would be a most welcome New Year’s resolution.
Ex-CBS journalist Connie Chung reported on uptalk back in 1994, but the intonation pattern has unfortunately even become far more “pronounced” since then.
Agree or disagree with these lists or annoying or acclaimed words? Comment below.
A registered independent, Robert Jonathan is a longtime writer/editor for viral news aggregation websites with a focus on politics and other trending topics. He earned a Juris Doctorate degree from “a law school the basketball teams can be proud of.”