Ben Zimmer on the Worst Words of 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ben Zimmer, New York Times magazine’s “On Language” columnist and executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus, discusses the worst words of 2010—from “enhanced pat down” to “anchor baby” to “mama grizzly.” We’ll be speaking with listeners about the words they hope disappear with the year’s end.

Leave a comment to share your nominations for the worst words of the year!


Ben Zimmer

Comments [33]

Shirley from Kentucky

I'm sick of hearing "absolutely" when they mean yes. Do four syllables instead of one make it more "yes" than yes? NPR correspondents and interviewees are the worst. Who are they trying to impress?

Jan. 04 2011 06:39 PM
Paul J. Bosco from MANHATTAN

Nothing wrong with this usage:

Me: "Everyone from Buffalo is a redonkulous iconically bipartisan Obamacare-loving outlier."

You: (outraged) "I'm ACTUALLY from Buffalo!"

The superflousity of this usage, however, is threatening the dissolution of society:

Me: "Where are you from?"
You: "I'm ACTUALLY from Buffalo."

True, there is worse:

Me: "Where are you from?"
You: "Technically, I'm from Buffalo."

Only thing worse is being "theoretically" from Buffalo. Of course, I am referring to only to the diction. Existentially, living in Buffalo is better theoretically than actually.

Sorry. 35 years ago I had a very bad date with a woman from Buffalo.


Dec. 30 2010 12:31 PM
S from Reno

The word "like" has almost broken the sentence structure. "Like, how did that happen?"

Dec. 30 2010 12:28 PM
Theresa from CA


Now that everything is "amazing," nothing is.

Dec. 29 2010 12:30 PM
TNT from NJ

What about the use of the word "offline" (i.e., when you say, "let's talk offline about this")? Why can't people just say "Let's speak about this in private." It is "redonkulous" (I love that word, by the way) to use that term in such a manner.

Dec. 29 2010 09:11 AM
patsy from Oregon

the last time I went to Washington Mutual to use the ATM, the machine asked me if I wanted a receipt. My choices were: No or Sure.
What happened to Yes and No. I think that is when WAMU (more nonsense) signed its death knell...

Dec. 27 2010 08:11 AM
Ellie from Maine

The word that has been bugging me for the past several years is "organic". Rarely is organic ever used correctly. And when I do see the word used correctly it has been so overused that it has lost its intended effect.

Dec. 26 2010 12:01 AM
Perry from Michigan

I'll be the judge as to what is "Very Funny"!

Dec. 23 2010 01:40 PM
UncleMarty from Queenz

I agree with Maria above....... "Guest" is the term for shopper at Target .... Orwellian .... how about "Chill-lax" for word of the year?

Dec. 22 2010 12:41 PM

I prefer "my benefactor" to client.

Dec. 22 2010 12:38 PM
Joachim Carels from BK

Even worse that being a Client at Target is being a Guest at Staples. A Guest, Really? Maybe I will get dinner next time I go pick up some printer paper.

Dec. 22 2010 12:38 PM
maria from the UWS from Upper West Side

in the line at Staples I am summoned by 'next guest please'. drives me demented! I'm not their guest I'm a paying customer!

Dec. 22 2010 12:38 PM
Scott H from NYC

"Anti-personism", which Keith Olbermann recently claimed he was the victim of when he was accused of rape apologism on Julian Assange's behalf.

Surely its cumbersome and meaningless qualities are of note.

Dec. 22 2010 12:38 PM
Julian from Maywood

Don't know if this has made the wider vernacular, but "owns" is particularly egregious. "owns" stands in for "rules" as a verb. E.G., that album owns!
This may only be present online.

Dec. 22 2010 12:31 PM
Steve Tenenbom

What are people trying to accomplish by using the word pricepoint instead of price?

Dec. 22 2010 12:30 PM

Bobby G

I looove the brilliance of "truthiness"

Dec. 22 2010 12:26 PM

When did "carrot on a stick" become "carrot & stick"?

Dec. 22 2010 12:25 PM
Dylan from Manhattan

Why the ubiquity and distortion of the word Outlier? Do we have Gladwell to blame for this?

Dec. 22 2010 12:25 PM
Bobby G from East Village

What are the cultural implications of the coinage "truthiness?"

Dec. 22 2010 12:23 PM
Lester from NYC

When did practically everything become an "icon" or "Iconic"? I hear it dozens of times a day. Overuse makes it both annoying and meaningless.

Dec. 22 2010 12:22 PM
Mark from Manhattan

Literally. It's way overused (perhaps 'way' is another one), and it's often used incorrectly.

Dec. 22 2010 12:22 PM
ajhbmb from CT

Worst Words - Did I really hear Leonard say the Lame Dick Congress?

Dec. 22 2010 12:21 PM
Scott H from NYC

"Anti-Personism", which Keith Olbermann claimed he and Julian Assange were the victim of when he was charged as a rape apologist.

Surely its cumbersome and meaningless qualities are of special note.

Dec. 22 2010 12:21 PM
David from Brooklyn


George Orwell is laughing in his grave.

Dec. 22 2010 12:21 PM

man up, grow a pair, circle back, I reached out to.. first 2 beaten to death, 2nd 2 just bidness BS words - why not just say return to or called (or contacted) reached out really over the top - I heard it first years and years ago from someone who wanted to be a rapper lawyer but now it's everywhere (well the 4 tops was it "Reach Out" (I'll be there) really dates me

Dec. 22 2010 12:13 PM
Andrea from Philadelphia

Obamacare. I always envision the president in a white coat asking me to say, "Ah." And, obviously, it's an attempt to get people to ignore the actual provisions of healthcare reform and envision a kind of fascistic, Brave New World scenario.

Dec. 22 2010 12:06 PM
Eric K


I never heard this word used before the last few months and now some of my more verbose friends and some pop culture pundits in the media have starting using this word to describe an example of something belonging in a person's purview or area of knowledge. What was wrong with "purview"? Maybe it has been around in this fashion longer than I realize and just wasn't in my own wheelhouse of words.

Dec. 22 2010 10:13 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

A vote _against_ including 'refudiate'. Like 'misunderestimate' it is a Dogberry of a word, but like it is a good word, born of unclear thought and understanding in an odious person's mind though it may be.

Remember, flowers often spring from dung-hills.

"Man up", on the other hand, was odious in birth, usage, and sound.

Dec. 22 2010 10:08 AM
ron from flushing

absolutely, really,are you serious no question

Dec. 21 2010 06:02 PM
Margie from TX

"You know what Im saying?"

Dec. 21 2010 05:41 PM

Worst word know, "you-know"

Dec. 21 2010 03:09 PM
Lois from NJ

"man up"

Dec. 21 2010 01:45 PM
Jordan Hadley

ideate - new corporate culture word for conceptualize or brainstorm

Dec. 20 2010 12:26 PM

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