Every year, words are either praised or ballyhooed by the writing community and 2012 was no different. Last year, even more sources were cited for words considered overused, misused, or downright banished.
Words, words, words, you might say, but where would we be without them? Grunting and gesturing at the wild boar bearing down on our little fur-clad clan, trying to get our meaning across clearly, distinctly, and immediately?
Well, things aren't quite so dire in the 21st century, are they?
But there's this cliff everyone is trying not to fall off and cans that politicians love to kick on a road that never ends. So the wild boar of politics barrels down upon us, and although this bit isn't about politics, even politicians need to use their words wisely.
There's the malarkey that Vice President Joe Biden used several times in the face off against Republican nominee Paul Ryan, which according to The Atlantic Wire, was often meant as "a bunch of stuff."
There are synonyms to the word malarkey that are much more interesting, like applesauce, balderdash, baloney, beans, claptrap, codswallop, fiddle, fiddle-faddle, flapdoodle, fudge, hokeypokey, hoodoo, hooey, horsefeathers, moonshine, nerts, piffle, poppycock, taradiddle, tommyrot, tosh, and twaddle. But we wouldn't want to twaddle our opponents, now would we?
However, Merriam-Webster defines marlarkey as "insincere or foolish talk." Marlarkey's first known use was in 1929 and according to the Merriam-Webster's editor at large, Peter Sokolowski, one of the most looked-up words of the debate that night.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, malarkey (also malarky) means "lies and exaggerations" originating circa 1924 in American English and is of unknown origins.
Not to beat Biden overmuch, he also kept using the phrase my friend to Ryan, belying the true meaning of the word, but it is better than being downright rude. Obviously, Biden and Ryan were not friends, but perhaps, they simply were not friends on the public stage.
Grammar and syntax expert Geoffrey Pullum, visiting professor at Brown University and a professor of general linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, said that "the word malarkey is of unknown origin, but is generally taken to mean nonsense or bunkum, especially obscure nonsense designed to mislead or baffle. What Biden meant was that Ryan was telling lies, but there is a real taboo against calling a fellow politician an outright liar in public."
But honestly, was either opponent being totally honest? The intricacies and layered meanings of the English language astound event he best of us. A good reason for writers to delve into the history of words. What might mean one thing today maybe have meant an entirely different meaning in the middle ages, or even yesterday.
Take the word artificial, whose meaning today is "fake or not natural, as in made by humans" such as an artificial heart, or Biden's artificial friendship toward Ryan. For instance, we don't have an artificial robot (although, nanotechnology may be quickly changing that norm) or an artificial pair of scissors (well, it could be if it were something only for display, for instance, made of cardboard, then it would be a fake pair of man-made scissors, but we, today, don't normally use the word in those terms.)
Artificial didn't always mean something "contrived or non-spontaneous." In the late 14th century, the word meant "of or belonging to art," from Latin's artificicium. It wasn't until the early 15th century that the word's meaning began to change to something "not natural," whether real (artificial light) or not (artificial flowers). Artificial insemination dates from 1897. Artificial intelligence "the science and engineering of making intelligent machines" was coined in 1956.
Today, artificial could describe how one feels or considers how someone else is acting. One might describe another person as totally artificial, or using an artificial smile, still meaning "fake or false" in meaning, a far cry from it's artistic roots.
Words are who we are. You've heard the term, "we are what we eat," right? Well, it's no different for words. We are what we say and write, and even think, but we aren't about thinking right now... unless you use words for that, too?
One of the most ... how shall I put it? ... horrid words, a word that is used but gives both a bad visual and a bad rap to the person both using it and the one used upon is baby bump.
It's not a bump, the woman is pregnant. This word (I won't type it again) is used for both the pregnancy showing and a baby carrier. (And just because I abhor this word, it will probably become mega popular and in the mainstream for many years to come just to irritate me.)
Does your company hire bikini babes or brogrammers? Count the number of female programmers in the U. S. and tell me how that number stacks up against male programmers. Is Silicon Valley gender-biased against female programmers or is there just not a big enough pool of women professionals to choose from?
According to Tech Republic, about 20% of the programmers in the U. S. are female and yet almost 30% of the bailiffs, correctional officers, and jailers are women, and a whopping 50.4% of the tech writers are women. (No wonder men are resorting to bromances.)
But seriously (again, like honestly above, we have our tongue in our virtual cheek), must we really bro anything? Already we've seen bromances popping up, not that we are dissing the buddy-buddy friendship of two straight guys, (but I guess something had to pop up on the word radar. Men do have male friends. At least it isn't illegal.)
Words are never more overused than in marketing where they jump on those power words, key words that should psychologically impact the viewer or reader or listening to purchase their product.
What are some of the most overused marketing words of 2012? According to Shift Communications, the most overused words in press releases of 2012 are global, leading, forward, solutions, innovation, performance, impact, well-positioned, effective, and so on. The entire chart can be seen on their website at Shift Communications.
Words have power. For 2013, let us strive for words that bring peace to the world, use words that feed the hungry both of mind, body, and spirit. For this New Year, happy, yes, share, and friend should become the most overused words.