It should come as no surprise that roughly half of the disdained words on what is perhaps the most well- known list of disdained words in 2020 relate to COVID-19.
In fact, COVID-19 is one of them, along with pandemic, social distancing, “we’re all in this together,” unprecedented and “in an abundance of caution.”
Regular readers know I’m a nut for words and language (I’m sure there’s no argument about the nut part). I especially relish words and phrases I love to hate.
And you are correct, especially now, if you are thinking I need to get out more. Surely, if I don’t feel comfortable having a social life or going out to dinner (how long has it been now?), I can take a walk outside or read a book.
Rest assured, I do both of those things. But useless information still beckons me, and the Lake Superior State University “Annual Banished Words List,” unequaled in its tongue-in-cheekiness, continues to delight.
The goal of its compilers, who for 40-plus years have selected the words each year from thousands of submissions, is simple: “to uphold, protect, and support excellence in language by encouraging avoidance of words and terms that are overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, clichéd, illogical, nonsensical.”
I’m sorry if that just happens to coincide with my core values.
Words that have made the list in years past include some common gems – “reach out,” “leverage,” “on the ground” and “bandwidth.” My all-time favorite, “It is what it is,” came with perhaps the best comment ever from the person who submitted it -- that it “accomplishes the dual feat of adding nothing to the conversation while also being phonetically and thematically redundant.”
I would add nothing to that conversation, other than to say amen.
Along with our increasing use of words pertaining to COVID (or “COVID-adjacent” if you will, but please don’t), the remote working environment has birthed new overused words. Also, some sleepers have been awakened.
Because we are working from our home offices and don’t interact with each other in person, “reaching out” has become even more crucial to our work lives. It is no exaggeration to say I don’t get through a workday without someone telling me they will reach out to me, or if they think they might need to talk to me again after we end a discussion, they will “reach back out.”
All that reaching exhausts me.
Fast gaining traction is “socialize.” If we are working on a project where we are reviewing a document or spreadsheet that will be seen by a larger audience, we don’t just send it to those recipients. We socialize it. The first time I heard that one, I thought someone was going to throw a party.
“Sandbox” has become synonymous with any kind of grouping of processes, thoughts or ideas (as in “that will be an important part of the sandbox”). So bring a shovel to your next meeting.
But nothing is picking up speed as much as “stand up.” In case you didn’t know, forming working groups or committees is so last decade. You stand them up so they’ll be strong and erect.
It’s not exactly a buzz phrase, but “I’m sorry, I was on mute,” accompanied by a chuckle, as if it didn’t happen on every video conference every day, is beginning to wear on me. Turn off the silence button and carry on without commentary, please. I believe by now we all know what happened.
(And while I don’t mean to be unkind, and I don’t object to your dog barking in the background, I don’t need to know why she is doing so. If it’s time for a trip outside, please excuse yourself without explanation).
I suppose there is psychology involved in the use of some of these words, but I should avoid getting too far into the weeds or overly granular. I suspect there are those among us who simply enjoy the sounds of these words as we/they say them.
But that’s enough of a deep dive from me. What do I know?
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Reach out to him or socialize your latest thoughts at [email protected].