"Perfect storm" of cliches make bad English list

CHICAGO Mon Dec 31, 2007 10:36am EST

A generic picture of an English dictionary and a thesaurus. A ''surge'' of overused words and phrases formed a ''perfect storm'' of ''post-9/11'' cliches in 2007, according to a U.S. university's annual list of words and phrases that deserve to be banned. REUTERS/Catherine Benson

A generic picture of an English dictionary and a thesaurus. A ''surge'' of overused words and phrases formed a ''perfect storm'' of ''post-9/11'' cliches in 2007, according to a U.S. university's annual list of words and phrases that deserve to be banned.

Credit: Reuters/Catherine Benson

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A "surge" of overused words and phrases formed a "perfect storm" of "post-9/11" cliches in 2007, according to a U.S. university's annual list of words and phrases that deserve to be banned.

Choosing from among 2,000 submissions, the public relations department at Michigan's Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie targeted 19 affronts to the English language in its well-known jab at the worlds of media, sports, advertising and politics.

The contributors gave first prize to the phrase "a perfect storm," saying it was numbingly applied to virtually any notable coincidence.

"Webinar" made the list as a tiresome non-word combining Web and seminar that a contributor said "belongs in the same school of non-thought that brought us e-anything and i-anything."

Similarly, the list-makers complained about the absurd comparisons commonly phrased "x is the new y," as in "(age) 70 is the new 50" or "chocolate is the new sex." "Fallacy is the new truth," commented one contributor.

Some words and phrases sagged under the weight of overuse, contributors said, citing the application of "organic" to everything from computer software to dog food.

In the same vein, decorators offering to add "pop" with a touch of color need new words, the list-makers said.

Such phrases as "post 9/11" and "surge" have also outlived their usefulness, they said. Surge emerged in reference to adding U.S. troops in Iraq but has come to explain the expansion of anything.

Other contributors took umbrage at the phrase to "give back" as applied to charitable gestures, usually by celebrities.

"The notion has arisen that as one's life progresses, one accumulates a sort of deficit balance with society which must be neutralized by charitable works or financial outlays," one said.

"Back in the day" raised hackles for being applied to recent trends rather than historical events.

Other teenage linguistic indiscretions such as the often meaningless use of "random" and "sweet" raised the ire of list-makers, as did the pointless "it is what it is."

Reporters were chided for skipping out on detail by describing an event or parting as "emotional," and for misapplying "decimate" when they mean annihilate or destroy, not the word's true meaning of to lose a fraction.

Sports announcers were urged to drop "throw under the bus" when assigning blame to a player. "It is a call for the media to start issuing a thesaurus to everyone in front of a camera," a contributor said.

And finally, any self-respecting writer would groan at being labeled a "wordsmith" who engages in "wordsmithing," the list-makers said.

(Editing by Stuart Grudgings)

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