The List: Uncommon usage

Each year, Lake Superior State University compiles a list of “Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness”. This year “fiscal cliff”, the name given to the US’s narrowly averted financial crisis, received most nominations, ahead of “trending” and “spoiler alert”. The grammarians don’t always get their way: previous nominations such as “drug tsar” (from 1990) remain widely used. But Charlie McCann lists some that have not endured.

1. “Fruitworthy” (1981)

When Jane Byrne, mayor of Chicago, inadvertently said she hoped that an investigation would prove “fruitworthy”, a debate ensued as to what she really meant. The Chicago Tribune devoted an editorial to it: “The quality of fruitworthiness is a mixture of accomplishment and rightness of purpose”, it ventured.

2. “Wellness potential” (1987)

“The patient did not fulfil his wellness potential” was a masterclass in euphemisms used to avoid responsibility. As Emmet Donnelly, who nominated this entry, explained: “This statement not only obscures the fact that the patient died, but places the blame squarely on the patient for this inexcusable failure.”

3. “Catastrophic health insurance” (1989)

This didn’t sounded like a policy many would be keen to take out. In fact it described provision for an emergency safety net to protect customers from unforeseen medical costs. “A contradiction in terms," was the verdict of nominator Karl Zipf.

4. “Out-placement” (1992)

This referred to the activity of a downsizing company in helping former employees make the transition to new jobs or redundancy. Nominators preferred the more traditional, “You’re fired”.

5. “De-water” (1996)

Nominator John E Bates Jr noticed that this term – used to describe the removal of water from solid materials – was not only creeping into common usage, but was increasingly being taken to mean “to bail out”. “Quick!” he urged, “don your Personal Flotation Device [a life vest] ... grab a de-watering device and start de-watering our sinking ship. Our de-deaths depend on it!”

6. “Companion animals” (2004)

Unlike the rather more popularly used “pets”, this term was advocated by the Companion Animal Welfare Council because, it said, it gave a better idea of the positive role animals play in society.

7. “Holiday tree” (2006)

In 2005 Boston’s Parks & Recreation Department announced the lighting of a “holiday tree”, even while Boston mayor Thomas Merino said, “I consider this to be a Christmas tree.” (“Politically correct” was nominated for banishment in 1994).

More banished words at

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