Worst Words of 2010

Worst Words of 2010

Each year, we compile a list of worst words to highlight the importance of clear public language. We look for new (or newly prominent) words and phrases that are misleading or downright deceitful, unclear or ambiguous, or just plain ugly! Here is our short list for the year.

2010 Winner: moving forward

Moving forward tops our list because it reinvented a cliché that was beginning to fade out. As the communication centrepiece for Labor’s federal campaign, it made sure 2010 will be remembered for the election of the ventriloquist’s dummies.

Clichés old and new

Strategic staircase is the new business cliché that is set to replace ‘forward plan’ (itself a tautology). In 2010, business gurus seemed to need a future in 3-D. So a strategic staircase allows us to move both onwards and upwards! Moving forward, of course.

Spin doctoring

Senator Christopher Evans gave deportation an Orwellian touch with this euphemism: ‘Well these people are different in the sense that they’ve finished their processing and they’ve been found not to be refugees. They’re on a removal pathway, and we’ll be looking to move them on as quickly as possible.’

Not to be outdone, Opposition spokesperson for the status of women Sharman Stone tried her best to paper over the reality of the Liberal’s paid parental leave scheme: ‘Well, we don’t call it a tax, we’re calling it an investment in human capital.’

BP gets a dishonourable mention for trying to spin their self-made environmental disaster. Under the vessels of opportunity program, boat owners whose jobs were destroyed by the disaster were employed to help in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup.


Refudiate is a  mangling of ‘refute’ and ‘repudiate’ that Sarah Palin coined during a TV appearance in July. She demanded that US President Barack Obama refudiate claims that the Tea Party movement is racist.

Great big new tax? Boring, repetitive and redundant, Tony Abbott’s slogan was the tautology of 2010. He was hardly going to get attention from a great small old tax, was he?

Mixed metaphor of the year

Tennis commentator Roger Rasheed was unchallenged for 2010’s best mixed metaphor: ‘Lleyton’s a person who’s on heat during a grand slam and there’s not quite the stigma that surrounds Federer that there was at his peak, when he was untouchable. A few more guys have got wings, and Lleyton’s just got to find a way to get in his kitchen.’

Political correctness

Want to brainstorm some ideas? Forget about it! Employers in the UK now ask staff to take thought showers instead because ‘brainstorm’ might be offensive to people with epilepsy.

NSW police inadvertently used Blue Gum as the operation codename for protecting Barack Obama when he visited Australia. Much to their embarrassment, ‘bluegum’ is offensive slang in the United States for a lazy African-American who refuses to work.


We spotted a new verb in an advertisement for a recent lecture on political economics: ‘Since the 1990s, both the Japanese and the Korean governments have made significant attempts to flexibilize their labour market through employment deregulations.’

The following passage won the NZ Plain English Awards people’s choice ‘Brain Strain’ award. The text is from a course description that is enticing students to study communications: ‘Although the culturally sedimented practices precluding the possibility of a different inter-field dynamic are considerable, I conclude by “visualising” an alternative relationship, one constituted, on all sides, by what Williams Connolly (2005) characterises as a properly democratic ethos of “agonistic respect” across difference.’

Teen speak

Our teenagers didn’t disappoint in 2010 either. Maggoted is new teenspeak for getting drunk to the point of incapacitation. Teenage obfuscation of binge drinking to the point of looking like a corpse.

We aren’t generally too worried about initialisms from our teenagers. Adults do it all the time and call them acronyms. But the problem with HMU (Hit Me Up) is it doesn’t actually make sense. Who would know it means ‘Contact me’?

Corporate speak

Disintermediate simply means cutting out the middleman, but unfortunately it’s crossing over into the mainstream.

British consumers were perplexed when they found their supermarket sausage rolls labelled as ambient. They may be forgiven for thinking this was some new-fangled process for producing sausage rolls using New Age music, mood lighting and sandalwood incense. Alas, ambient is just food industry jargon for ‘can be consumed at room temperature’.

Sneakers on a bitumen road point in the same direction as an arrow that is painted on the road

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