Worst Words of 2013

Worst Words of 2013

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.

2013 Winner: demising

At a time of rising unemployment, corporations need to handle job losses with honesty and sympathy. Yet HSBC decided it was only demising some 1,000 workers. ‘The roles of commercial financial advisers will be demised … As a consequence the bank will be demising the roles of 942 relationship managers.’


When 2 Qantas planes came a little too close to each other in the sky, the airline helpfully downplayed what might have been a mid-air collision: ‘Indications are that the loss of separation occurred when one of the Qantas aircraft received clearance to climb from air traffic control.’

Honourable mention also goes to ecoeggs, the rather misleading brand name for a product produced by chooks that are stacked 20,000 animals per hectare.


We used to have ideas. Now we get together in strategic planning workshops and ideate. This apparently helped the NSW Office of Preventative Health to develop its Active Travel to School Program guide. Or maybe they sniffed too many of the coloured whiteboard markers.

2013 was a rich year for corporate nonsense-speak. But nothing quite captured phatic brand building chores like this sentence from a blog on brand socialisation: ‘Our transactional business DNA has evolved, our fabrics of personal engagement have morphed, and we keep a glowing mobile device at our sides 24 hours a day.’

Political spin

Having contributed classics like detailed programmatic specificity to the worst examples of public language, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd changed tack in the last election with some daggy dad language: ‘Sorry folks, gotta zip’.

To keep things politically even-handed, we couldn’t help noticing how you can change a promise but keep it, so long as you retain the same funding envelope.

Fancy pants terms

Have you noticed we no longer use simple words for simple things? ‘Rain’ becomes a rain event and a bushfire is now a bushfire event. Worst of all, in 2013 Toyota decided to have an all out clearance event. We used to call that a ‘sale’.

This year, the arts showed it could match the worst of corporate and political language. While making his film River of Fundament, Matthew Barney opined that he wasn’t ‘planning a durational work‘. That means he didn’t think it would be a long film.

Verbal slip-up of the year

We know it came out at a doorstop in the middle of an exhausting election campaign. But we can never un-hear Tony Abbott explaining: ‘No one, however smart, however well-educated, however experienced … is the suppository of all wisdom.’


NAB kicked off the year ‘to footify Australia’, which apparently means ‘to convert every single Australian into an AFL devotee’. They developed a glossary of footy terms, but a dictionary would have been more useful to confirm there’s no such word as footify.

While ‘selfie’ has become a useful and popular word, surely we can resist the awful spin-offs, like helfie (photo of your own hair), belfie (photo of your own bottom) and drelfie (photo of yourself while drunk). What’s next, a pelfie?

And that brings us to twerking, a blend of twisting and jerking. Made far too prominent by Miley Cyrus. Enough said.

Mixed metaphor of the year

As usual, nothing can top the world of sport when it comes to a mixed metaphor. Here’s an epic from a media story on the use of drugs in sport: ‘It’s not enough to just muddy the waters. If you’re going to poke that bear, you better not go to a gunfight carrying a spoon.’

Honourable mention went to a real estate agent discussing the commission for a property: ‘There’s room to sharpen the pencil.’

An office worker carries a box of items from their desk

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