Every New Year’s Eve, I wait impatiently for one thing … and it ain’t the ball-drop. No, I wait for the Lake Superior State University List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.
This time I really hoped to see my biggest pet peeve of 2016—“special snowflake”—but was disappointed. Who wouldn’t want to eradicate this in-vogue insult? Oh, that’s right, that would be the online comment board/forum denizens who, rather than address the issues brought up by people with whom they disagree, accuse them of being whining “special snowflakes” and offer them coloring books, a blankie and cocoa.
Once the argument was that as soon as someone flippantly mentioned Hitler or the Nazis, the discussion was essentially over since they had nothing of substance to add. I believe the highly unoriginal “snowflake” insult, one I’ve been seeing just about everywhere, has usurped Hitler’s place (and I’m sure he’s not happy about that). As cartoonist Clay Jones recently posted on his blog (channeling these lovely unimaginative bullies): “What’s the matter, Sunshine? Not smart enough to think of your own derogatory terms?”
Nope, and they really don’t like it when someone calls them “snowflakes.” That’s just so mean! And they gave away all the cocoa, coloring books and blankies!
When they’re offended, it’s righteous indignation. When someone they disagree with is offended, that person’s a whining snowflake. Yeesh. (Yeah, I think we know who’s more likely to be offended.)
Yes, we have a generation or two (or three) that can’t take venturing outside their safe space where they can listen to only those things that agree with their worldviews. They’re not snowflakes, though; they’re entitled, coddled, woefully misinformed and easily offended. If you must name-call, call them that and leave the fluffy white stuff alone.
While Lake Superior State ignored the usurpation of the word for ice crystals that fall from the sky, it did take on some of the more annoying words of the past year, including the one Oxford Dictionaries named word of the year: “post-truth.” Oxford defines the adjective as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
For people like me who actually care about facts, it’s frightening that we’ve come to a time when we can’t even agree on what facts are, and they don’t seem to matter at all. As Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said (and the list invoked), you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. But I guess, in a post-truth world …
Other words and phrases chosen for banishment include “bigly” (What? No yuuuuge?), “echo chamber,” “town hall meeting,” “guesstimate” and “historic.” Other equally (sometimes more) annoying words and phrases included “listicle” (one of the reasons I usually don’t post lists), “on fleek,” and “ghost” (not the movie or Caspar the Friendly). Now if only these annoyances were actually banished.
You can read the full list here.
In anticipation of the list being released, I asked my colleagues for words they’d like to banish. Many of the responses included words already on past lists, such as “went missing,” “hack,” and “manspreading” and its many man- cousins. One did guess one of the latest list’s words (fleek). Others I was surprised hadn’t made it on any previous lists, such as “vacay” and other cutesy shortenings of words that TV writer Michael Storey said made his “toes curl when I hear it.”
Our ActiveStyle editor, Michael’s wife Celia, on the other hand, wasn’t having any of that:
“I don’t believe that we’re well served by ‘banning’ colorful coinages or phrases simply because they’ve caught the popular imagination. These smug annual listmakers imagine themselves as holding a high ground, standing on some old rock of linguistic righteousness; but with regard to language, strict constructionism floats on quicksand.
“Playing with words is an inherently human impulse. Why deny human nature the joy of word play?
“Instead of merely denouncing this or that supposedly wretched coinage, the offended should explain their objection. What harm, exactly, does using the phrase do or threaten to do? What better way of conveying the same meaning already exists? We should aim to be helpful, in other words.
“If the complaint is overuse, say so, but don’t imagine that our noticing we’ve heard it a lot means anyone who chooses to use it has inferior taste or a lazy mind.”
Though anyone using “snowflake” around me to refer to someone with whom they disagree (rather than hexagonal ice crystals) should be prepared to be banished. Or at least sat upon by a very large cat with gas, sharp claws, and a bad attitude.
Assistant Business Editor Jim Kordsmeier wants to get rid of “‘brick and mortar’ when writers/reporters mean ‘store’ or ‘shop’. … Very few stores or shops have actual brick and mortar in them anyway. More like aluminum and drywall. I’d be more OK with ‘tin and gypsum.’ And ‘unicorn’ anything. Bah.”
His issue with “unicorn” is that it’s being used improperly by business writers: Startups valued at $1 billion or more are no longer myth, but unicorns still are. I probably shouldn’t tell him that the group that compiles the Lake Superior State banished-word list each year is called Unicorn Hunters.
News clerk C.B. Byrd would like to banish “the use of the phrase ‘enough said,’ usually done digitally on Facebook in reference to an opinion-based statement (though I have heard it said out loud), and sometimes attached to a photo that doesn’t actually say anything. It’s almost like the person is participating in an argument that nobody else is aware of, and this is his culminating point, after which he says ‘enough said’ as if simultaneously declaring the imaginary argument over and himself the victor.”
Gosh, that never happens on online forums. Everyone is so polite and only logical arguments are used rather than fallacious reasoning. And unicorns do exist, dang it. At least in that alternative reality so many people seem to inhabit now.
The best response, though, came from reporter Kenneth Heard, one of my favorite people in the world. Ken’s always made me laugh (sometimes with really bad puns) and he didn’t disappoint in his email.
“For personal reasons, I’d like to see ‘Lake Superior State University’ banished. When I was a kid growing up in Bemidji, Minn., in the 1960s-1970s, Bemidji State University, where my dad taught music, played Lake Superior State in hockey. I’d go to a lot of the games, but those versus Lake Superior, a hated conference rival at the time, would generally end in fights, and fans would throw potatoes on the ice. I’d be mad because a few games were forfeited and I’d miss the action. But that’s just me.”
I don’t know if it’s just him. Surely at least one of those hockey players dodging ice potatoes would like to see it banished as well.
Besides, potatoes belong in the oven, and then slathered with butter, sour cream and chives. Frozen potatoes don’t taste nearly as good.