Word whackers

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Pity the poor wretches who bring you the news every day. Pressed for time — and eager to speak or write as plainly as possible — they are doomed to fall into cliché purgatory.

By definition, clichés are clever words or phrases that have the cleverness ruthlessly beaten out of them through overuse.

Such is the fate of terms such as “spoiler alert” and “bucket list,” two of the phrases selected by Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in Michigan this week as part of its annual List of Banished Words.

LSSU’s campaign is really tongue in cheek. Most clichés die hard. The list is compiled from submitted nominations, and the one that topped the list is a relatively new kid on the block: fiscal cliff.

“You can't turn on the news without hearing this,” Christopher Loiselle of Midland, Mich., wrote in his nomination. “I’m equally worried about the River of Debt and Mountain of Despair.”

As usual, fiscal cliff is simply a clever metaphor that went viral. It would have better described the global meltdown of 2008, but for some reason has become the catch-phrase for the looming threat of tax hikes and spending cuts in the U.S. — one that was supposedly averted at the 11th hour. (Perhaps “11th hour” should be tossed in the bin as well.)

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall made a cute observation about the No. 1 banned term on Twitter Wednesday: “Another #saskadvantage … we don’t have a lot in the way of cliffs, fiscal or otherwise.”

Americans should understand why another term made the list: job creators/creation. It’s actually just another term for big business. A common catchphrase in the 2012 presidential election, it is “uttered by every politician who wants to give big tax breaks to rich people and rich businesses,” explained Jack Kolars of North Mankato, Minn. Of course, some “job creators” get rich by laying people off, in which case the term “job depleters” might be more appropriate.

One term may be less well-known to those not immersed in social media: YOLO. It stands for “you only live once,” which is all fine, except that it’s stating the obvious and therefore saying nothing at all.

Perhaps one of the most interesting nominations to make the list are the words “passion” and “passionate.”

“‘Passion’ connotes ‘unbridled,’ unmediated by reason and sound judgment,” wrote Michael T. Smith of Salem, Ore. “Passion is the stuff of Ahab, Hitler, and chauvinists of every stripe, and terrorists.”

So, when you say someone is passionate about his job, you’re really implying he may be a little too emotional to do it right.

The remaining banned terms? Kick the can down the road, double down, trending, superfood and boneless wings.

Check out more comments from submitters at http://www.lssu.edu/banished/current.php.

Organizations: Lake Superior State University

Geographic location: Michigan, Midland, Mich., River of Debt U.S. Saskatchewan North Mankato, Minn. Salem, Ore.

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