Worst Words of 2014

Worst Words of 2014

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 2014 short list.

2014 Winner: unconscious coupling

Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband, Chris Martin, didn’t decide to separate. Instead, they experienced a conscious uncoupling. Recent sightings of the pair together have prompted speculation about a ‘conscious recoupling’.

Corporate spin

Microsoft emailed its employees to explain that the company’s ‘device strategy must reflect Microsoft’s strategy and must be accomplished within an appropriate financial envelope. Therefore, we plan to make some changes.’ Finally, in the 11th paragraph, the email got to the point: 12,500 Microsoft employees were going to lose their jobs.

Residents of Morwell, Victoria, were left breathing foul-smelling smoke for over 2 weeks due to a month-long fire, or should we say open cut event, in a nearby mine. Inversion conditions led to a reversion in air quality, while fire fighters struggled to bring the fire to its totality.


14 million vehicles were recalled this year because their Takata airbags had an unfortunate tendency towards rapid disassembly. In plain English, that means some of them exploded.

When a recent Qantas flight was delayed by an hour, the explanation was as baffling as it was frustrating for passengers. There had been a pavement failure, which meant that a pothole on a runway had to be filled-in before the plane could take off.

Political spin

High value targeting is a more pleasant way to describe killing an enemy of importance. This term hit the news in December, when WikiLeaks released a CIA report on the practice. This came the same month a US Senate Intelligence Committee report highlighted the use of enhanced interrogation techniques – which most of us would think of as torture.

Senator Mathias Cormann told Australians that the cut in ABC funding was an efficiency dividend. ‘We are not making cuts’, Senator Cormann explained. ‘The ABC has been exempted from efficiency dividends for the last 20 years, efficiency dividends which apply to every other department in government.’ The government later admitted that funding was, in fact, cut.

Non-apology of the year

Uruguayan footballer Luis Suarez issued a non-apology for biting his Italian rival in a world cup soccer game: ‘The truth is that my colleague Giorgio Chiellini suffered the physical result of a bite in the collision he suffered with me.’

Silly sign of the year

Gold Coast City Council erected some helpful warning signs about the potential for dangerous aquatic organisms. According to Daryl McPhee of Bond University, this means the waterways could be physically penetrate[d] by bull sharks. Luckily, the sign included a picture.


This year we spotted collabition: an awkward mangling of the words ‘collaboration’ and ‘competition’. Not to be confused with its close cousin, co-opetition, which describes businesses working with their competitors, to everyone’s advantage. Neither case is supposed to be confused with ‘collusion’.

Couplies Selfies are so 2013. This year it’s all about the couplie (a self-portrait with your significant other) and the footsie or legsie, (a photo of your suntanned legs and manicured feet against a scenic backdrop). Something to shake your selfie stick at.

Marketing buzzword of the year

Normcore is a fashion term that describes wearing unpretentious, plain, average-looking clothing. Like normal clothing, but more fashionable. Apparently, ‘Normcore seeks the freedom that comes with non-exclusivity. It finds liberation in being nothing special, and realizes that adaptability leads to belonging. Normcore is a path to a more peaceful life.’ If only the Buddha knew.

Mixed metaphor of the year

Let’s fix our roof while the sun is shining because we’re on a course to hit the rocks and we have to fix it. That was Amanda Vanstone helpfully clarifying Australia’s ‘budget emergency’ in her role as member of the Australian National Commission of Audit. A close winner ahead of sport show co-host Paul Kent’s explanation that next year the Cronulla Sharks will hit the ground with a bit of wind in their sails.

Grammatical error of the year

An East London Tesco store made the news last July when its management posted an unusual apology for its broken freezers: We are trying to get this problem fix as soon as possible and are really sorry for any incontinence caused. 

Headshots of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin

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