Worst Words of 2011

Worst Words of 2011

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.

2011 Winner: fugitive emissions

The ammonia that ran away. Manufacturer Orica was in trouble several times during the year for leaks of polluting chemicals like hexavalent chromium and ammonia. But the company can’t bring itself to use the word ‘pollution’: ‘Where specific emissions are not measured at a site level, the NPI provides Emission Estimation Technique Manuals. Using these manuals, companies such as Orica estimate their fugitive emissions for substances such as ammonia.’

Spin-doctoring and doublespeak

When Choice magazine raised the damage done by teeth whitening, a spokesperson for the dental industry described it to the ABC as a negative good.

Nicole Kidman welcomed a new family member with the year’s worst euphemism: ‘Our family is truly blessed … to have been given the gift of baby Faith Margaret. No words can adequately convey the incredible gratitude that we feel for everyone who was so supportive throughout this process, in particular our gestational carrier.’

Marketing spin

The City of Holdfast Bay in South Australia decided to take the dolphin off its logo. When asked to explain why, it dropped into inpenetrable marketing lingo: ‘Dolphins are a niche experience, along with European settlement and Aboriginal heritage.’

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission called it misleading for poultry producers to say their chickens are ‘free to roam in large barns’. It is suing Baiada for using the term when there can be as many as 20 birds per square metre.

Corporate spin

Here’s just part of the title of the West Australian Newspapers prospectus to buy the Seven Group: 4 for 7 accelerated non-renounceable pro rata entitlement offer. Even Kerry Stokes admitted he didn’t understand the prospectus, which is probably why only 14% of retail investors took up the offer.

Academics were writing about the 2-speed economy back in 2006, but in 2011 the term became a cliché. We heard of 2-speed rental markets, 2-speed business, 2-speed Europe and even a 2-speed design philosophy! Julia Gillard tried to spin the term into the patchwork economy, while a CommSec report argued for a 3-speed economy.

New clichés

The term ‘hero’ used to mean something. Now almost anything can be a hero, particularly on reality television. On the Renovators, we had a hero rug, or hero carpet, or even hero lighting. On Masterchef, Matt Preston found a hero in almost every dish: ‘The hero of that dish, the thing that stands out, is that ice cream’.

The media latched onto any term they could to sensationalise the Queensland floods: ‘Officials in the Australian state of Queensland say at least 72 people are missing after flash floods which have already claimed 8 lives. Queensland Police Commissioner, Bob Atkinson, compared it to an inland instant tsunami with a massive wall of water’.

Text language and teen speak

The ugly-initialism-of-the-year award goes to MYEFO (mid-year economic and fiscal outlook). No-one actually knows how to pronounce it, but every journo wanting to seem up with the latest on the economy sprinkled it liberally throughout their text.

Chillax, the ugly combination of ‘chill’ and ‘relax’ has until now been safely confined to the teenage world and a few permissive dictionaries. But in 2011, it started to cross into the mainstream. Instead of dying its well-deserved death, it is now being used in company and product names, like Chillax Tours and Chillax Natural Sleep and Relaxation Drink.


Complex language can be useful in an academic work. But when used in writing to a broader audience, it comes closer to showing off antinomies unnecessarily: ‘At the center of this resituation of critical theory is a normatively reformulated interpretation of Martin Heidegger’s idea of “disclosure” or “world disclosure”. … His innovative and original argument will serve to move the debate over the future of critical studies forward – beyond simple antinomies’.

Mixed metaphor of the year

As Greg Crowden reported, the Rugby World Cup brought us a mixed metaphor on an epic scale when United States coach Eddie O’Sullivan assembled the best clichés coaches can buy: ‘…we play from start to finish and that we stick to our plans and our systems and, when we’re under pressure, we don’t abandon ship. Particularly staying within striking distance over the last 20 minutes as long as we can and staying on the horse as for long as we can… The tier-one nations are going to come out of the starting blocks and throw the kitchen sink at us. At times we’re going to be a bit punch drunk probably, but we need to just hang in there and keep swinging and stay in the game over the last quarter.’

Clouds of emissions coming out of cooling towers.

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