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.
2016 Winner: Brangelexit
When supercouple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie decided to split, it spawned one of the ugliest frankenwords of all time, combining Brangelina with Brexit. Apart from being inherently ugly, elevating a celebrity divorce to the level of a major world event was a poor reflection on 2016.
Samsung kicked off a year of poor communications from mobile phone manufacturers. When its phones started catching fire, it said they had a battery cell issue: ‘Samsung is committed to producing the highest quality products and we take every incident report from our valued customers very seriously. In response to recently reported cases of the new Galaxy Note7, we conducted a thorough investigation and found a battery cell issue.’
Samsung just edged out Apple, which had to explain why its phones were suddenly turning off. Apparently it was all due to controlled ambient air: ‘We found that a small number of iPhone 6s devices … contained a battery component that was exposed to controlled ambient air longer than it should have been before being assembled into battery packs. As a result, these batteries degrade faster than a normal battery and cause unexpected shutdowns to occur.’ It didn’t really explain what controlled ambient air actually is.
Every year, organisations prove themselves incapable of using 2 clear and simple words: ‘job cuts’. In 2016, a New Zealand university explained: ‘It is proposed that 16.28 full-time equivalent staff are disestablished.’
Meanwhile in the UK, Uber lost a case where it claimed it did not actually employ anyone, so it just deactivated drivers it no longer wanted. Judges scolded the company for ‘twisted language’ and ruled that Uber drivers should receive the national living wage.
When baby formula business Bellamy’s Australia hit some problems with Chinese regulators, its sales and share prices plummeted. The company spin noted it was simply experiencing a temporary volume dislocation.
How do you talk about the mass killing of greyhounds that are not able to race? You turn to a bland euphemism: wastage. And they wondered why the NSW government wanted to ban the sport.
As we find ourselves in a post-truth world, a new political force is making its way to the fore: the alt-right or alternative right. As many are realising, this is actually a euphemism for what is better labelled the ‘far right’, ‘extreme right’ or ‘white nationalism’.
In April, Treasurer Scott Morrison tied himself in linguistic knots trying to avoid the word ‘tax’: ‘It’s not to say there won’t be revenue measures in the budget, of course there’ll be revenue measures in the budget. But what we’re saying, is where will apply those revenue measures, is to reducing the tax burden in other parts of the economy wherever possible to drive down the deficit.’
Then there is this classic euphemism from the gambling industry. Apparently, they don’t build casinos any more. They build integrated resorts.
Buzzwords and business jargon
The Productivity Commission report on the publishing industry talked a lot about cultural externalities. We used to call these ‘books’.
A big storm in Sydney prompted a local council to post signs saying: ‘For your safety we advise you not to visit the park during or just after heavy rain and strong winds because of the risk of tree failure.’ This turned out to mean we need to watch out for falling branches.
After the tragedy at the Dreamworld theme park in Queensland, a senior Queensland Ambulance Service officer reported of the victims: ‘They were assessed by Queensland Ambulance personnel and had all sustained injuries that were incompatible with living.’ Another way of saying this would have been ‘fatal injuries’. While the circumstance was sensitive, surely that would have been sufficient.
Although the Trump camp denied he ever said this, the first presidential debate coined an ugly new adverb: ‘I’m going to cut taxes bigly, and you’re going to raise taxes bigly.’ Whether he actually said ‘big league’ or bigly, this frankenword deserves to be cut from the lexicon!
While a new word for being socially and politically aware might be useful, surely we can come up with something that actually uses English grammar correctly. ‘Stay woke, dude‘ does not.
Mixed metaphor of the year
Experts often use metaphor to explain complex concepts. But they don’t always think it through. Healthcare law expert Larry Levitt warned that repealing the US’s Affordable Care Act would mean that: ‘As the car is hurtling towards the cliff, it’s driving on quicksand.‘ A close runner up was this gem in the Adelaide Advertiser: ‘The writing was on the wall that a changing of the guards was on the cards after Thompson won last month.’
Non-apology of the year
How can you apologise without apologising? You say sorry for lewd and misogynistic comments but then pass them off as locker room talk. At least, that’s what you do when you’re the next president of the United States.