As a young child, I would often hear my father say:  “Broaden your horizons.”

That was his general response whenever my sister and I turned up our noses at anything “different” that was served at the dinner table.  In my case, that included anything to do with acorn squash.  Or peas.  Or heavy cream sauces with foreign objects.  Ewwww.

But this same advice is not limited to the culinary world, mind you.  Seriously!  Keeping an open mind is a good rule of thumb when it comes to other areas in life, too.  Including individual vocabularies. 

Yes, that’s right.  From time to time, it’s good to take a closer look at what you say and to challenge yourself to broaden your lexicon.  How are you limited in your everyday speak?  Do you tend to contain your words to just a few familiar standbys?  Or, by osmosis, do you pick up words and phrases used by others—whether good or bad—and make them your own?  Cha-ching!

I’ve driven my family nuts this past year, as I’ve become more and more cognizant of what people do and don’t say in their conversations with me.  Recently, I pointed out that my sister says “you know” a lot as a connector between thoughts and sentences.  After revealing this genius discovery, my dear mother quickly reminded me that “You say that, too, Laura.”  That’s ridiculous!  Are you kidding me?  Come on!

Whatever.  At least I am not alone in my weaknesses. 

And it is that collective—and limited—verbal scope that led Lake Superior University to begin the annual “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness” back in 1975.  The story goes that the institution’s PR director and his colleagues came up with an idea to banish overused words and phrases and then issued a list on New Year's Day.

Thirty-three years later, the annual list is still going strong, as over 2,000 nominations were received through the university’s site for the ‘08 lineup. 

But how does it work and how are the words chosen?  Throughout the year, members of the “Word Police” (you, me, the friendly neighborhood wordie … anyone really) can submit their pet peeves from everyday speech, as well as from the arenas of news, education, technology, advertising, politics, sports, etc. And then in late December, a committee determines which words make the final cut with the results releasing on January 1.

I see many entries on the this year’s list that have made many “special guest appearances” in my own lexicon in the past and present.  Duh.  But at least I can laugh at myself, right?

So how about you?  You may be thinking that this all sounds pretty ridiculous.  But I challenge you to do some personal word inventory and see if one of your most overused words is listed here.  Then, try to banish it and then broaden your lexicon.  Your friends and family will thank me, for sure.

  • Perfect storm
  • Webinar
  • Waterboarding
  • Organic
  • Wordsmith/Wordsmithing
  • Author/Authored
  • Post 9/11
  • Surge
  • Give back
  • ______ is the new _____
  • Black Friday
  • Back in the day
  • Random
  • Sweet
  • Decimate
  • Emotional
  • Pop
  • It is what it is
  • Under the bus


NOTE:  Italicized words noted throughout this post may or may not represent the most overused and generally useless speech in my personal lexicon.