Bob McKinney

Anyone stopping by here over the past eight years knows I have a fun obsession with the English language, a big part of which centers around so-called buzz words.

The term is used to not only refer to single words, but also phrases, and includes those that have become overused and often misused.

For most of them, I have a strong distaste precisely for the reason just stated — they are overused and misused. Not to be judgmental (much), but I have a strong suspicion they are often spoken by folks who enjoy hearing themselves say them.

At the top of my all-time favorite list is “reach out.” I don’t know what we did before we could reach out to people. I guess we just called them or spoke to them.

Reaching out sounds more important. If I’m reaching out to you, I really need to talk to you, and you need to respond (or reach back).

Following close behind is “it is what it is,” which is nothing more than filler for dead air, similar to “so” or “anyway.”

“It is what it is?” Well, yes, that would be a true statement, and I would be concerned if I heard someone say, “It is what it isn’t.”  

What it is, is unnecessary.

I must, however, make a disclaimer. There are some words and phrases that might qualify as buzz words that I like and use — although sparingly.

One is “dumpster fire,” a metaphor for describing a disastrous situation. In my opinion, it’s pure gold. What better descriptor — a trash receptacle in blazes — could be used when something has gone straight to heck in a handbasket (since we’re talking about clichés, I’ll go all in)?

Unless it’s “train wreck,” of which I’m also quite fond. That one is probably worse in severity, so it should be used only to define the most disastrous of disasters.

So even though I’ll make fun of them, I’ll admit to liking some of them. I would still, however, urge discretion.

Most of my favorites have appeared at one time or another on the “List of Banished Words” published each January by Lake Superior State University.

Officially known as the “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-use and General Uselessness,” and compiled from submissions made throughout the year, this month marks the 45th release of the list I always await with great anticipation.

Coming in at the top this year is “quid pro quo” — which should surprise none of us who have followed the impeachment saga. I learned this term long ago in law school and used it only infrequently when I practiced that profession. Now, unfortunately, it’s become part of everyday language.

Another one making list No. 45 is “artisanal,” and I couldn’t agree more with this one. The list makers put this in the category of “Words That Attempt to Make Something More Than It Is.” It seems to pop up in food establishments, whether you’re ordering a sandwich or a cocktail, and I guess it’s supposed to mean there is something original about it.

In the same group is “curated,” and when I saw this one I almost applauded. Nothing is simply cared for or presented anymore. It’s curated. If I ever tell you I’m wearing clothes that were curated by someone or I’m drinking wine that was carefully curated before it was corked, you have permission to slap me.

 “Save it for the museum,” said one of the folks who submitted “curated.” Save it, indeed — or do something else with it.  

Under “Words Banished for Pretentiousness and Imprecision,” you’ll find “literally” (which literally exhausts me when used, ironically, as a synonym for “figuratively”); “living my best life” (as opposed to choosing another kind of life); and “I mean.” (I mean, come on, what’s wrong with that one?)

But it’s the one under “Those Darn Millennials” that stopped me cold: “OK, Boomer.”

It’s “a response from the millennials to the older generation,” according to the LSSU list committee.

A brand new one to me, I find it offensive. And since learning of it a few days ago, I have already heard it in conversation.

If I were a millennial saying this to its intended audience, I would not be counting on an inheritance.


Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.