If you are still trying to decide on a New Year’s resolution, there are some people in Michigan who might be able to help: Promise never to use the word “problematic” again.
That is one of more than a dozen words and phrases on the 41st annual list of banished words that Lake Superior State University issues, drawn from a survey of words people hate, invent or annoyingly overuse.
Previous lists have included hated phrases such as “my bad” (1998), “forced relaxation” (1989), “free gift” (1988), “live audience” (1983, 1987, 1990). Last year’s list deemed “bae,” “polar vortex” and “hack” worthy of exile.
Interactive Feature | Tell Us Your Banished Words Readers are sharing their most hated words on Twitter. Add yours with the hashtag #TellNYT.
The banishments are intended as suggestions, or “food for thought,” to use a phrase that sounds as if it might deserve its own banishing.
This year, the most nominations went to a wee wisp of a word, the humble, two-letter “so.” It was already banished back in 1999, when people were suggesting that it be relegated to the dustbin because of phrases like “I am SO down with this list!”
The list is compiled from nominations worldwide of citizens and scholars alike, and the university helpfully includes quotes from those who care enough about the Queen’s English to write in. Here’s why Bob Forrest of Tempe, Ariz., finds “so” so annoying:
“Currently, it is being overused as the first word in the answer to ANY question. For instance, ‘How did you learn to play the piano?’ Answer: ‘So my dad was in a classical music club.”
The word “problematic” also got no respect. “A corporate-academic weasel word,” was how Urban Dictionary described it, the university noted.
Sometimes, new words simply appear out of nowhere. The need for them suddenly arises from something that is happening in our society, and boom! (banish that), there they are.
Take “manspreading,” which found a place on the 2016 list. It defines the habit some men have of taking up more space in public transportation than they need, opening their legs and encroaching on adjacent seats.
“Men don’t need another disgusting-sounding word thrown into the vocabulary to describe something they do … You’re just taking too much room on this train seat, be a little more polite.” Carrie Hansen, of Caledonia, Mich., wrote.
“Vape,” which is derived from the noun “vapor” but is masquerading as a verb, also made the list. “Vape” and “vaping” are used to describe the act of smoking e-cigarettes (another strange word, the university said).
David Ervin of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, said he hopes the word “goes up in smoke.”
Some of the 2016 entries are compounds or phrases, ugly marriages of unrelated words that correspond to the times. Like this one: “Break the Internet.”
Or, as one word-watcher put it in an example: “I hope the list doesn’t ‘break the internet.’ (How else would I read it next year)?”