I’m Just Sayin': Words about Words

by Memoir Mentor on January 9, 2011

My daughter-in-law emailed me this week to say her family had a blast at our house on Christmas. She’s thoughtful that way, but her statement gave me pause. When did people start having a blast again? I thought that term went out of fashion about the time I got married and my blast days tanked. Who resurrected it 40 years later? I may sound geeky, but I wonder about such things. Maybe my daughter-in-law merely picked it up from her baby boomer parents who surely used that expression in their courting days.

I’ve pondered this more than usual because of a newspaper article I read on New Year’s Eve. The article was about Lake Superior State University’s publication of its annual “Banished Words List”—a compilation of words that should be banished from the Mother Tongue for “Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.” Maybe you’ve seen it. The university has been publishing its list every New Year’s Eve since 1976, when a creative administrator dreamed up the idea to give the school a little PR.

Good idea. Have you ever heard of Lake Superior State University? Located in Sault St. Marie, right up near Michigan’s Canadian border, LSSU was once a small branch of Michigan College of Mining and Technology. The university now offers 60 degree programs…and its annual Banished Word List. Go to the school’s website at http://www.lssu.edu and you’ll notice that List-related info dominates the home page!

If you’re new to this, here’s the deal: Every year disgruntled English purists nominate to The List the most egregious words and expressions that have come to dominate public discourse in the last twelve months. The words that bug the most people make the list–the slang, the hackneyed, the corny, and clichéd, the political, celebrity, and, now, Internet catch-words that catch on in epic proportions and somehow go viral, substituting for intelligent thought and conversation and rendering American English the butt of international jokes.

FYI, “epic” and “viral” appeared on this year’s list. “FYI” likely appeared on the list a few years back. Because I’m one who’s intrigued rather than bugged about such things, I went to the site and checked out some of the lists from past years.

Past Lists
In 1976, the very first list, people nominated words like “dialogue” (“We need to dialogue about that.) and “macho.”  In 2000 people were peeved by such egregious expressions as “road rage,” “thinking outside the box,” “24/7,” and “Know what I’m sayin’?” “That was also the year folks had “issues,” and were waiting for a “wake-up call.” Not a good year, know what I’m sayin’?

Words and expressions that made this year’s list will undoubtedly ring a bell with most of you. Maybe you’ve even said them yourself—expressions like “wow factor,” “back story,” “a-ha moment,” the last surely attributed to Oprah, and, of course, the Sarah Palinism “mama grizzlies.” Other expressions that vexed enough people to make this year’s list include “man up” (“Hey, man up and quit your blubbering!”), “live life to the fullest” (Oprah again?}, and “supersizing.”

Internet Speak
Blame the Internet for several terms that made this year’s list. Along with the previously mentioned “viral,” people reviled such noun-turned-verbs as “Google,” as in “Just Google it, “ and “friend”— “She asked me to friend her on Facebook.”

If we watch television for half a minute, we realize most of these expressions stay with us once they weasel their way into public discourse. Some get tweaked a bit and show up in other iterations. For example, 2000’s “Know what I’m sayin’?” morphed into this year’s “I’m just sayin’.”

As I read through this blog again, I realized I’ve used terms that undoubtedly appeared on someone’s “banished list” at some point—words like “geeky,” “tanked,” “morphed,” “tweaked,” “here’s the deal,” “ring a bell,” and “weasel” used as a verb. It’s all very interesting, or disturbing, depending on how you feel about such things.I’m wondering if some form of “I had a blast” will make it onto next year’s list?

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