Every year a group of professors and staff members at a small public university in Michigan (Lake Superior State University) publishes a list of banished words. To banish usually means to force someone to leave his or her home city or country, but here it just means to prohibit or not to allow something to happen. The words and expressions on the “banished” list are ones that have been misused (used incorrectly) or overused (used too much) in the past year, and that you should try to avoid using this year.
Anyone can suggest a word or phrase that should be banished. In 2015, Lake Superior State received more than 800 suggestions. They selected 13 of those suggestions for this year’s list.
Here are five that I think are particularly good ones for you to avoid in your writing and speaking in 2016:
So – I’ve written about the misuse of the word “so” before, and even made a video about it that was published originally last year in ESLPod.com’s magazine, Learn English Magazine. Rather than explain again how people misuse this word, you can watch the video (and subscribe to our magazine for free for more cool videos!).
Problematic – This is just another way of saying “It is a problem,” as in this example: “His arriving late to work everyday is problematic.” Some have referred to this term as a “weasel word,” meaning something you say when you don’t have the courage to say what you really mean, perhaps because you don’t want the other person to get angry at you. If someone says to you, “Well, I think your solution to this particular issue here is somewhat problematic,” what he really means is, “Your idea is terrible.”
Price point – A price point is, well, a price! It is often used when people are talking about the cost or price of something very expensive, such as a car or a house. If you are looking for a new house, you could say that your “price point” is $350,000, meaning that you are looking for a house that costs no more than that amount. This expression really bothers me when I hear people using it. In my opinion, there is never a good reason to use “price point.” If you mean “price,” say “price.”
Secret sauce – A sauce is a liquid that is put on or mixed with some food. For example, I eat spaghetti with a tomato and meat sauce. A secret is something that no one else knows, that only you or a small group of people know. The term “secret sauce” was probably first used by a popular restaurant to refer the sauce it puts on its hamburgers. But the term has come to refer to some special factor or reason that makes an organization or a business successful. You could talk about the “secret sauce” of Apple’s success being its cool designs or easy-to-use software. But the expression doesn’t really make any sense, since the “sauce” (reason for success) isn’t “secret” anymore if you are able to talk about it in public.
Break the Internet – To break something is to cause it to no longer function or work properly. You can break your watch if you drop it on the floor or break a coffee mug if you accidentally knock it off your desk (like I did last week). You can also “break your leg” or “break your arm,” meaning to cause one of your bones to crack or separate. However, we don’t usually use “to break” when talking about a complex system of machines and software such as the Internet. Nevertheless, people have started using the expression “break the Internet” to refer to what happens when one or more websites stop working due to a sudden surge (rapid increase) in use. For example, someone might post a video on a very popular website that generates (produces; causes) so much traffic (people going to that website) that the website stops working. You then might say this action “broke the Internet” because that website stopped working.
“Break the Internet” is a good example of hyperbole, when you exaggerate or make something seem more serious or extreme that it really is. In this case, the Internet isn’t actually “broken” when a few websites stop working, even if they are popular ones.
Are there words in your language that have become popular this past year that are misused or overused and that you would like people to stop using? Try to explain them to us (in English, of course!) below in the comments section.