Nothing strips a word of all its meaning like using it over and over.
Case in point, the word "amazing," which has gone from describing sheer astonishment to a simple affirmation of the slightly above-average. Which is exactly why Lake Superior State University wants to ban it.
Every year the Michigan university releases a list of 15 words that, after months of staggering overuse, have got to go. Other words and phrases that made the list: "occupy," "man cave" and "ginormous."
Most of the words are synonymous with a driving force derived from pop culture. Look no further than the cult-like obsession with Beyoncé's pregnancy for the reasoning behind "baby bump," or the self-explanatory "occupy."
According to Time magazine, "amazing" came out on top with more than 1,500 nominations from anglophones worldwide. Many people complained that the word went stale after being overexposed through reality TV.
"I blame Martha Stewart because to her, EVERYTHING is amazing!" one nominee wrote.
The plight to eradicate the word has even been taken to Facebook where a smattering of groups lament the word's ubiquity.
John Shibley, one of the people responsible for the Lake Superior list told NPR that the annual word collections are like "looking at snapshots of cultural movements back then, times gone by."
The inaugural list was born at a New Year's Eve party in 1975 when a college relations director bet that he could go home and write up five overused words and phrases. That list consists of timely gems such as "macho" ("seldom pronounced properly and therefore lacks meaningfulness") and "détente" ("invented by Henry Kissinger. Nobody else knows what it means, and now even Kissinger has forgotten").
"I personally don't want to see language squelched in any way or form because I think it's a living thing. It reflects us and it's always changing," Mr. Shibley says.
The Toronto photographer JJ Thompson compiled a similar list for the Toronto Standard, where he dreams of a future without "staycation" and "foodie." Public usage of the latter word, he writes, "is like whipping out your Razr."
Another blogger ranted about words that needed to be retired with a list topped by "adorkable," no doubt inspired by Zooey Deschanel's pervasive brand of saccharine whimsical.
Lake Superior State says it doesn't compile these lists to try to control our choice of words, but simply to start a conversation about language. Still, a world without the word "man cave?" That would be pretty amazing.
What words would you ban for 2011? Challenge: See how many of the banned words you can use in a sentence.