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An Amazing Trickeration?: Banished Words For 2012

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On New Year's day in 1976, Lake Superior State University in Michigan released its first "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness". Every year since then, it has taken nominations for words and phrases we should quit using in the coming year. Last year's list included such anti-favorites as "viral," "epic" and "refudiate."

In Washington, D.C., pedestrians nominated "ping me", "literally" used incorrectly, "bro," "hater," "hating," "totes" and "amazing."

John Shibley, who helped compile Lake Superior's 37th annual list of banished words, says "amazing" was also one of the dozen that made the final list, receiving several thousand nominations from around the world.

"One that hadn't shown up on our all-time banished list, which surprised us, is 'amazing,'" Shibley told weekends on All Things Considered host Rebecca Sheir.

"This is sort of a tongue-in-cheek endeavor, when people notice they hear it too much on the media or when they're conversing with other people. It sort of is like a pebble stuck in your shoe," Shibley says. "People are either really angry at a word or phrase that's overused or just find it's a quirky word that's time to retire."

Other words that made the list were man cave and ginormous.

"Two weeks ago, we didn't have any notion at all that [man cave] would show up," Shibley said. "And I always like the dark horse words that float to the top and surprise us."

The First List

At a New Year's Eve party in 1975, Bill Rabe, the former college relations director, made a bet with the faculty that he could go home and type up five words and phrases that they talked about that they felt were overused. The 1976 list included "detente" and "macho." Lake Superior State now has close to 900 words on its all-time banished list.

Rabe was a stringer for United Press International and he sent it off for publication. UPI ran it on New Year's day and shortly afterward, cards and letters started pouring in from people who had seen his list.

"So he settled into a habit ... before long, it grew legs and took off," Shibley says.

Shibley says Lake Superior State receives thousands of nominations from all over the world. Shibley, another colleague in the public relations office and students then go through the nominations and try to settle on 15 words.

Reflective Of The Times

Shibley says that looking through the lists can be like "looking at snapshots of cultural movements back then, times gone by".

Several words on this year's list, like "occupy," "shared sacrifice" and "win the future" echoed social and political themes of the year.

Shibley says one student brought in a pizza and waved his fingers "like W.C. Fields and says, 'I'm going to occupy this pizza.'" The word "occupy" was nominated by many college students who felt it was used as a verb too much for other things.

"But that's how language develops, from contemporary events," Shibley tells Shier. "I personally don't want to see language squelched in any way or form because I think it's a living thing. It reflects us and it's always changing."

Shibley says that while the list is made in jest, it is a list that is meant to start a conversation about words and how people express themselves.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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