Worst Words of the Decade
Since 2010, we have curated an annual list of the worst words and phrases to highlight the importance of clear public language. Political spin, corporate doublespeak, marketing jargon and bad business buzzwords are a constant presence on these lists.
We've taken a look back at the annual Worst Words winners from 2010-2020 to select the Worst Words of the Decade, and there was a clear winner.
2017's 'alternative facts', the now infamous phrase from the Trump administration, stood out in a decade that saw democracy decline.
‘Alternative facts’ worst phrase of decade, The Standard
2020 was the year of COVID-19, and it generated some less than welcome words. The South Australia Government eased some coronavirus restrictions and allowed people in bars to drink while standing up.
But then they dubbed this 'vertical consumption.'
As the moves toward cleaner energy gained momentum in 2019, the US Department of Energy decided to ramp up the spin. It rebranded natural gas as ‘freedom gas' and trumpeted its efforts to help export ‘molecules of US freedom' to the world.
2018 was a particularly poor year for corporate doublespeak and spin. When our national public broadcaster used the phrase 'external career development opportunities' to discuss firing its staff, it joined a long list of institutions incapable of using simple English to describe something difficult.
Ex-ABC chief coined 2018's worst phrase, SBS News
Political doublespeak dominated our 2017 list as things became seriously Orwellian in the US. At the top of the heap was the worrying ‘alternative facts', suggesting that politicians can be right even when they're wrong.
Noxious Frankenword 'Brangelexit' topped our 2016 list. Combining Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's celebrity moniker 'Brangelina' with the recent 'Brexit' vote, this elevates a celebrity divorce to the level of a major world event.
In a particularly bad year for corporate spin doctoring, 'possible emissions non-compliance' topped our 2015 list. Volkswagen’s CEO used this phrase to describe what was actually cheating when regulators tested how much pollution its cars emit.
The worst words, phrases and spin of 2015, ABC The Drum
Christmas gifts for the famous, the infamous and Campbell Newman, Brisbane Times
'Conscious uncoupling' was our 2014 winner. Gwyneth Paltrow used this phrase to describe her separation from husband Chris Martin.
When KFC chose 'goodification' as the slogan for its marketing campaign, we had to choose it as our Worst Word of the Year (along with its cringe-worthy cousins - 'gooderer', 'goodest' and 'goodify').
2011 was a banner year for corporate evasion and euphemistic spin, with 'fugitive emissions' (more commonly known as pollution) topping our list.
Survive the language jungle
Need to ideate some impactful solutions? Try our suitspeak jargon generator, or read Shakespeare and Wordsworth in the language of today. Then find out if your colleagues are following our guide to writing officialese!
For more fun with language, get your copy of Modern Manglish, by Neil James and Harold Scruby, with illustrations by Alan Moir. Navigate linguistic traps for the unwary, from sports talk to fancy-pants job titles.