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Mal Mots, Not Bon Mots

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10.01.13

Mal Mots, not Bon Mots
Those clever turns of phrase that sounded so fresh, so felicitous when first dreamt, first uttered, have, through constant repeating in our blaring media, become tired, grating, annoying, in short, mal mots.  Lake Superior State University has announced the fifteen most overused words of 2009 from the thousands commonly used in marketing, media, technology, education and elsewhere nominated for the 35th annual list issued by the LSSU wordsmiths.  Take note, dear reader, and banish these from your speech.
Signalling the end of our patience with constantly unpleasant news of the economy, several words on this year’s list of useless phrases relate to economic conditions and politics.
First on the list is "shovel-ready." The term refers to infrastructure projects that are ready to break ground and is popularly used to describe road, bridge and other construction projects considered for stimulus funds from the Obama administration.  In nominating this expression, Pat Batcheller of Southgate, Michigan said it’s "a relatively new term already overused by media and politicians. Bury this term, please."
And speaking of “stimulus”, that word -- as applied to government spending aimed at boosting the economy -- made the overused category as well, along with an assortment of Obama-related constructions such as Obamacare and Obamanomics.
"We say Obamanough already," the LSSU committee said.
"Toxic assets," financial instruments that have plunged in value, sickened list makers so much that the phrase was added to the list, along with the tiresome and poorly defined "too big to fail" which has often been invoked to describe wobbly U.S. banks.
Similarly, "in these economic times" was deemed overdue for banishment.  “Aren’t ALL times these economic times?” asked one.  "When someone prefaces a statement with 'in this economic climate,' it starts to sound like a sales pitch, or just an excuse on which to blame every problem. And if a letter or e-mail message from your employer starts with this phrase, usually it means you're not getting a raise this year," said Dominic in Seattle.
Also making the list -- "transparent/transparency," typically used, contributors said, when the situation is anything but transparent.
Also out is “czar", a metaphor long used by the media for positions of high authority, including “baseball czar” Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, appointed by team owners as commissioner-for-life in 1919. President Woodrow Wilson had an “industry czar” during World War I. Lesser-known “czar” roles in government during the last 100 years include: censorship, housing and oil czars in 1941; rubber czar in 1942; patronage czar (1945); clean-up (1952); missile (1954); inflation (1971); e-commerce (1998); bioethics, faith-based and reading czars (2001); bird flu (2004); democracy (2005); abstinence and birth control czars (2006); and weatherization czar (2008).  President Bush appointed 47 people to czar jobs, and President Obama has appointed 8 to date.
Technology comes in for its share of words of which we are well and truly weary.
“App”, for software application or program developed for use with mobile phones is tired. Edward R. Bolt of Grand Rapids, Michigan, asked, "Must we b sbjct to yt another abrv? Why does the English language have to fit on a two-inch screen? I hate the sound of it. I think I'll listen to a symph on the rad."
Also ripe for exile is "sexting," shorthand for sexy text messaging, a habit that has caused trouble this year for public figures from politicians to star athletes.
List makers also showed distaste for tweeting, retweeting and tweetaholics, lingo referring to the popular Twitter networking website. And don't even get them started on the use of friend as a verb, as in: "He made me mad so I unfriended him on Facebook," an Internet social site.
Male acquaintances need to find another word than "bromance" for their friendships, and the combination of "chillin" and "relaxin'" into "chillaxin" was another easy choice for the list.
Also making the list was "teachable moment."  "This phrase is used to describe everything from potty-training to politics. It's time to vote it out!" said one list contributor.
"Purging our language of 'toxic assets' is a 'stimulus' effort that's 'too big to fail,'" said a university spokesman.
It is always enlightening, not to mention entertaining, to see what familiar constructions have become verboten.  For more annoying words, visit www.lssu.edu/banished.
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