Let’s Retire These Words in ’23

This year has had its share of fashionable words and phrases that have overstayed their welcome, if they were ever welcome in the first place. Here’s my list of language that should be banned starting at midnight on January 1st.

Athleticism. I watch my share of sports on TV and I keep hearing that the best athletes in the world are displaying “athleticism.” This is like finding it notable that lawyers practice law or that mechanics fix cars or that Donald Trump tells lies.

Battle ground states. Note to readers: our state is simply Wisconsin or you may call us the Badger State, but our official name is not “Battleground Wisconsin,” as you may have been led to believe by every national news outlet in existence.

Body of work. You’re going to hear this endlessly as the college basketball season approaches the NCAA tournament. We’ll hear that although Loyola just lost to Gonzaga by 50 points, their entire “body of work” for the season, along with Sister Jean’s prayers, justifies a spot in your brackets. Why not just say “record”?

Ecosystem. There was a time when this otherwise fine word was confined to descriptions of the natural environment. But then it escaped. Now we have political “ecosystems,” tech “ecosystems,” the Taylor Swift fan base “ecosystem.” Ok, I made the last one up, but you weren’t sure, were you?

Gaslighting. This one actually has some utility. It means telling a lie but then making the victim of the lie question their own judgement about it. But it mostly gets used when that’s not the case and when the simple word “lie” would do perfectly well. At least that’s what I think, unless I’m the one who’s crazy.

Genre. Here’s a fun exercise. Listen to any random hour of an NPR news program. If you don’t hear the word “genre” at least once, you’ve got to start paying closer attention.

Intentional. I intend to never use the word “intentional” ever again, not that I’ve ever used it before.

Kindness. I get the feeling that the people who keep slinging the demand for “kindness” at me will chase me down and beat the bejesus out of me if I’m not kind to them.

Lived experience. When facts and reason don’t support your argument, you get to play this handy trump card. But isn’t all experience lived? What does “lived” add to experience? Let’s just say, “experience” and be done with it.

Moment. This has become a verbal tick on NPR and a written one in the The New York Times. Liberals have found their moment, seized their moment, are intentionally having lived experiences in this moment. Let’s hope the moment has passed.

Your source for pretentious language.

Reimagine. When something you’re responsible for has turned into a complete disaster it’s time to reimagine it. This is meant to imply that you are the possessor of very deep thoughts. You don’t just think. You imagine. And you don’t just imagine like normal people, but you reimagine their boring imaginations. Let’s imagine a world in which people stop talking like this.

Right? People who use this word can’t help themselves. It’s like the methadone version of “ya know.” Yes, you got off of “ya know,” but “right?” is just as addictive and no less annoying. Also, it’s not meant as in, “do you think I’m right and what’s your view?” It’s meant in the spirit of, “of course I’m right, you idiot, but are you keeping up with my indispensable insights?”

Robust. In my professional life I once knew a guy who liked to say things like, “and in that space we’re having a robust conversation.” I haven’t seen that guy in many years. These have been happy years.

Situational awareness. Another one from the wide world of sports. That second baseman over there? Yeah, the one earning $5 million this year to do stuff like, I don’t know, pay attention to the runner at first base who may try to steal? He’s showing great “situational awareness” by not daydreaming about his stock portfolio. Let’s pay him $6 million next year!

Space. It was once the final frontier. Now you can use this simple word to signal your pretentiousness in phrases like, “in the retail space” when you just as easily could have said “in retail.” It always makes a person sound smarter when they add more words. Of course, if you really want to sound brilliant you can always say, “in the robust retail space ecosystem.”

Tributes are pouring in. My God, every time somebody who had a secondary role on a sitcom in 1985, and who you thought died a decade ago, finally passes on, we hear that “tributes are pouring in!” I mean Kirstie Alley, for example. I thought she was fine on Cheers and I’m sorry she died, but I haven’t thought about Kirstie Alley in, like, 30 years. Tributes could not possibly have poured in. Maybe a few nice tributes arrived here and there.

Unpack. Unless you’re talking about a suitcase why not just say “explain”?

Weaponize. Remember when in Godfather 3, an otherwise forgettable movie, a guy kills the Pope (or maybe it was some Vatican official, nobody really cared by that point) using only his glasses? Now, that was weaponizing an otherwise everyday item. But these days when people say “weaponize” they just mean that somebody is using something, like language, to criticize some person or idea. Nobody is having their jugular opened with a sharp piece of plastic. That leads to another peeve of mine: equating hurt feelings, simple disagreements and the like with actual violence or “harm”. Here’s a phrase I wish would get more use next year: “thick skin.”

I could go on, but a good rule of thumb is that if you hear it on NPR or ESPN, don’t say it.

So, those are my wishes for the New Year. And if I should pass on in this coming year I hope that robust tributes will pour into this space from every battle ground state about my kindness, my athleticism and my situational awareness in the moment, none of which may be justified by my body of work but all of which was intentional and part of my lived experience, and none of which I ever weaponized. And I’m not gaslighting you about this. Right?

A version of this piece originally appeared in Isthmus.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

6 thoughts on “Let’s Retire These Words in ’23

  1. I often disagree with your political perspectives so it is nice to find common ground. Here’s a few more.

    “Attacked” – close relative to weaponize. Used often by “crybullies” (eg., Taylor Lorenz). You weren’t attacked, you were criticized.

    “Kind of”, “Sort of” – a staple of NPR conversations, 10 years ago anyway.

    “Literally” – used to add gravitas to a statement but usually just shows the speaker doesn’t understand it. Eg.,guy in spaghetti sauce aisle speaking on phone: “There’s literally 400 different kinds”. Dude.

    “Speaking out”, “Breaking their silence” – unless you’re coming down from a mountain top after observing a vow of silence for decades, N/A.

    “Experiencing” – as in “those experiencing homelessness”. Be careful on the roads this weekend; there may be drivers out there experiencing drunken driving.

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  2. May I please nominate the phrase, ‘I’m not gonna lie’, which is commonly used as a preface for a statement, as in, ‘I’m not gonna lie, I don’t like that person’. This overly used phrase leaves the listener to wonder if every other comment the speaker makes is a lie. What they’re really doing is being candid. Happy Festivus!

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  3. Great column. As a journalist, you’re executing to a high degree. But you skipped “existential” again. Nobody’s goin’ anywhere.

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