On New Year's day in 1976, Lake Superior State University in Michigan released its first "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness". Every year since then, it has taken nominations for words and phrases we should quit using in the coming year. Last year's list included such anti-favorites as "viral," "epic" and "refudiate."
In Washington, D.C., pedestrians nominated "ping me", "literally" used incorrectly, "bro," "hater," "hating," "totes" and "amazing."
John Shibley, who helped compile Lake Superior's 37th annual list of banished words, says "amazing" was also one of the dozen that made the final list, receiving several thousand nominations from around the world.
"One that hadn't shown up on our all-time banished list, which surprised us, is 'amazing,'" Shibley told weekends on All Things Considered host Rebecca Sheir.
"This is sort of a tongue-in-cheek endeavor, when people notice they hear it too much on the media or when they're conversing with other people. It sort of is like a pebble stuck in your shoe," Shibley says. "People are either really angry at a word or phrase that's overused or just find it's a quirky word that's time to retire."
Other words that made the list were man cave and ginormous.
"Two weeks ago, we didn't have any notion at all that [man cave] would show up," Shibley said. "And I always like the dark horse words that float to the top and surprise us."
The First List
At a New Year's Eve party in 1975, Bill Rabe, the former college relations director, made a bet with the faculty that he could go home and type up five words and phrases that they talked about that they felt were overused. The 1976 list included "detente" and "macho." Lake Superior State now has close to 900 words on its all-time banished list.
Rabe was a stringer for United Press International and he sent it off for publication. UPI ran it on New Year's day and shortly afterward, cards and letters started pouring in from people who had seen his list.
"So he settled into a habit ... before long, it grew legs and took off," Shibley says.
Shibley says Lake Superior State receives thousands of nominations from all over the world. Shibley, another colleague in the public relations office and students then go through the nominations and try to settle on 15 words.
Reflective Of The Times
Shibley says that looking through the lists can be like "looking at snapshots of cultural movements back then, times gone by".
Several words on this year's list, like "occupy," "shared sacrifice" and "win the future" echoed social and political themes of the year.
Shibley says one student brought in a pizza and waved his fingers "like W.C. Fields and says, 'I'm going to occupy this pizza.'" The word "occupy" was nominated by many college students who felt it was used as a verb too much for other things.
"But that's how language develops, from contemporary events," Shibley tells Shier. "I personally don't want to see language squelched in any way or form because I think it's a living thing. It reflects us and it's always changing."
Shibley says that while the list is made in jest, it is a list that is meant to start a conversation about words and how people express themselves.
REBECCA SHEIR, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Sheir. On this day in 1976, Michigan's Lake Superior State University released its first "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness." We wanted to know what words you would nominate to banish in 2012, so we hit the streets of Washington, D.C. to find out.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Ping me. I don't know why they don't say IM or instant message me. It's too long for people to say, so they say ping me.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Literally. And bro just in general.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I want to see hater, hating, any form of the word hate in that context, I want to see it go.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Tote, short for totally.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Amazing.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Yeah, that. That goes. Everything can't be amazing.
SHEIR: That's the word on the street. But what made the official list? John Shibley of Lake Superior State University helped compile this year's list of banished words.
JOHN SHIBLEY: Amazing, baby bump, shared sacrifice, occupy, blowback, man cave, the new normal, pet parent, win the future, trickeration, ginormous and thank you in advance.
SHEIR: So I was going to thank you in advance for joining us, but I understand that's a phrase I should probably steer clear of this year.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SHIBLEY: In advance, you know, we put these words out. You're free to use them for the rest of your life.
SHEIR: That's great, because I use ginormous all the time, I will confess.
SHIBLEY: So does my wife.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SHIBLEY: So do my students.
SHEIR: Going back to amazing, why were so many people annoyed by that word?
SHIBLEY: This is sort of a tongue-in-cheek endeavor. When people notice they hear it too much on the media or when they're conversing with other people. And people are either really angry at a word or phrase that's overused or just find it's a quirky word it's time to retire.
SHEIR: Can you tell us how this list got started in the first place? I mean, who dreamed this up?
SHIBLEY: The faculty. It was at a New Year's Eve party 1976, and they got talking about, over martinis, words and phrases that are overused. And Bill Rabe, who was the college relations director, made a bet with the faculty that he couldn't go home that night and pull out his Remington typewriter and type up five words and phrases that they talked about that evening.
And mind you, this is New Year's Eve, and it ran on January 1st. Cards and letters start coming in from readers who have seen this story move on UPI, and the next year, he had 20 words that were nominated. 1977, same thing. So he settled into a habit, and it's been going for 37 years.
SHEIR: I'm taking a look at the list right now and I'm seeing shared sacrifice, I'm seeing occupy, I'm seeing win the future. I know the list is just for fun but do you think the list at all reflects the year's, like, social and political themes?
SHIBLEY: Oh, definitely. If you look at the list of all the words Lake State has banished over the years, it's like looking at snapshots of cultural movement back then, times gone by in a linguistics sort of way.
SHEIR: So much fun.
SHIBLEY: So much trickeration.
SHEIR: So much trickeration.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SHIBLEY: I guess that's my favorite on this one this year.
SHEIR: That's John Shibley, who helped compile Lake Superior State University's list of banished words for 2012. John, thanks for being on the show today.
SHIBLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.