Worst Words of 2012

Worst Words of 2012

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 2012.

2012 Winner: goodification

KFC and its ad agency decided it was time to sell junk food with junk language: ‘The 26th of February 2012 is a good day for KFC. In fact, it’s our goodest day ever, because we’ve set out on a mission to improve everything we do. We call it The Goodification. It’s simple; you take a good thing, goodify it, and voila! It’s gooderer.’


‘Boat people’, aka ‘asylum seekers’ or ‘refugees’, are Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. The term moved from bureaucratic reports to the department’s website headlines. An honourable mention went to Defence Minister Stephen Smith, who referred to the interception of Indonesian people-smuggling operations as disruption events. And the cliché human tide washed up far too often in mainstream media headlines.

Dubious science and dubious language helped Republican Todd Akin lose his Senate seat after he said that women rarely get pregnant as a result of legitimate rape: ‘If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.’

When Citigroup announced that 11,000 workers would lose their jobs, it called the move ‘a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency across the company while maintaining Citi’s unique capabilities to serve clients, especially in the emerging markets’.


It’s not every day your luggage is subjected to a Frankenword. But that’s exactly what happened when we boarded a Qantas plane in September and were asked ‘Do you want to premium your bag?’

Apparently a part-time anorexic is a semi-rexic. The term was used very loosely in blogs to describe someone so slim they must be indulging in a little bulimia. Let’s stop this one taking off.

To ease congestion during the Olympics, the British Secretary of State for Transport urged civil servants to re-mode during the Games. She meant walking or cycling to work, or working from home. People didn’t feel better about the inconvenience of re-moding.

Tech speak

When doors in an apartment building had knobs instead of a handle, the local Council issued a serious Fire Order with comically convoluted language: single handed downward action latching devices.

An honourable mention went to a Victorian Parliament maintenance notice, which cited disruption to the access control equipment. These are known as doors to most of us.

While new laws on work health and safety replaced the 5-syllable term ‘occupational’ with the simpler ‘work’, they then introduced an unnecessary 4-part acronym. No longer is an ’employer’ responsible for safety: from here on an employer is a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).

Wollondilly Shire Council announced to rail users that the Southern Highlands Line would close temporarily as part of the new coordinated possession regime. It apparently meant the trains had to stop while RailCorp worked on the track to improve service.

Management speak

International company Lion Nathan took over an independent New Zealand brewer, promoting an enhanced proposition to drinkers. Thanks to Kate Dowling who sent this one in after a reviving beer: ‘[The takeover] complements Lion’s existing beer portfolio well and allows us to offer our customers an enhanced proposition with a leading portfolio of brands across the specialty, boutique and popular craft market.’

Risk appetite is hardly a new management term, but in the lead-up to the Olympics, a UK security expert used it to justify the arrest of terrorist suspects: ‘There wasn’t any specific threat … [but] risk appetite is diminishing rapidly as we reach closer and closer to the Olympic Games.’

Mixed metaphor of the year

Sporting journalists always lead in this contest, but a cricket journalist was a clear winner with his coverage of the West Indies tour in April: ‘Michael Clarke dipped into his bag of tricks to pull another rabbit out of the hat, but it was Michael Hussey who led his team out of jail as Australia wiggled free of West Indies’ hold to take control of the second Test on Monday. And yes, it did actually read ‘wiggled free’, although there was no record of the players wearing colourful skivvies.

Fried chicken drumsticks

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