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University Lists Misused, Overused Words - 2002-01-02

Each New Year's Day since 1976, a university in the American Midwest has released a list of some two dozen words and phrases its contributors think should be dropped from the English language. This year's list is topped by references to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and the Pentagon.

The annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness is compiled from hundreds of nominations submitted during the year to Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. List co-compiler John Shipley says those who refer to the September 11 terrorist attacks as 9-11 have apparently bothered a lot of people. That term is among the most nominated on the 2002 list.

"I think people are lamenting the fact that we are starting to truncate, to compress important events into three-digit numbers or three-letter words that are not really words," he says. "At some time in the past, we found the time to pronounce December 7 [Pearl Harbor day]. We did not call it 12-7. A lot of people think the events of September 11 should be called the events of September 11 and not 9-11."

A few other phrases heard often in news coverage of the war on terrorism also made the list, such as, surgical strike, friendly-fire, and bring the evildoers to justice.

As in past years, many nominations for the new list come from the business world, like synergy, which one nominator says means "working together," but says he hears misused so often he doubts many people know the word's true meaning. John Shipley says a few people nominated ramp-up, which is used by people who mean to say, "increase."

"One of my more favorite ones is killer ap, which refers to a 'killer [computer] application.' The nominator for that said, the only killer ap he is aware of is the one that drove the computer in the movie 2001, to kill everybody aboard the ship," he says.

The annual list from Lake Superior State began in 1976 as a way to attract more attention to the small university in Northern Michigan. Mr. Shipley says only a few dozen people made recommendations in the early years of the list. More than 2,500 sent in nominations for the 2002 list.

Other words and phrases making the new list include: in the wake of, which means "after;" faith-based, instead of "religious," and, functionality, as in: "computer product upgrades offer increased functionality."

"I think people have a word or phrase that sort of sticks in their craw," says Mr. Shipley. "It is like a pebble in the proverbial shoe, and this gives them an outlet. A lot of people invest a lot of time and effort in trying to say exactly what they mean and when they come across a word or phrase that has become too trite or hip, this list gives them an outlet."

Mr. Shipley says the list is meant to be taken in good humor, but he hopes it does encourage people to think about what they are saying.