Worst Words of 2018

Worst Words of 2018

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.

2018 Winner: External career development opportunities

Former ABC chairman Justin Milne  doesn’t fire staff, he simply offers them external career development opportunities. And with this, our public broadcaster joined a long list of institutions incapable of using simple English to describe something difficult.

Spin and doublespeak

Commonwealth Bank CEO Matt Comyn tied himself in knots at the Banking Royal Commission this year. Unwilling to admit the bank used bonuses to encourage staff to sell more products, he instead said that the bank offers short-term variable remuneration which elicits discretionary effort. When pushed, he did concede that variable remuneration was linked to poor customer outcomes.

Talking about the forcible separation of children from their parents at the US–Mexico border, the Trump administration used the euphemism tender age shelters to describe where the children are held. Footage shows those facilities include concrete floors fenced with chicken-wire – more accurately described as cages.

Staff at 5 General Motors plants were left confused after the manufacturer reported the plants will be unallocated in 2019. This means they’ll be closed, with up to 14,000 employees losing their jobs.

How about coordinated inauthentic behavior? This mouthful of a phrase is Facebook’s euphemism for Russian election-tampering. We’re not sure why Facebook needed to make this issue any more opaque than it already is.

Virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa seem to have given us voice sniffing, also known as eavesdropping. Amazon patented a so-called voice sniffer algorithm in 2017, and terms such as voice-sniffing technology came into general use in 2018.


The corporate world continued to mangle the English language for profit. Among the worst was this ‘simple’ explanation from Jennifer Williams, chief marketing officer of Compare the Market: ‘Our Simplesness philosophy aims to simplify the process of comparing confusing products and remove the fear of making a bad decision by empowering consumers with the information and tools they need to make confident purchasing decisions’.

Situationship is apparently the new label for a committed yet undefined relationship. Or as one author describes it, somewhere between ‘more than casual dating’ and ‘not quite fully serious relationship’. While clarifying the muddy waters of modern dating is worthwhile, we’re just not sure this word helps.

Another new term for a short holiday, microgapping involves taking a quick break. Launched by the Visit England campaign, this one feels like someone spent too long thinking about how to talk to millennials. Microgapping narrowly beat some other new terms for travel that we’ve spotted this year: jobbymoon, (the break you take in between jobs) and painmoon (a break you take when something bad happens to you). While taking time off to deal with grief is often a good idea, calling it a “painmoon” is definitely not.

Mixed metaphor of the year

‘Let’s call it what it is – Mr Morrison has leapt on the tweet like a drowning man will grab at a fig leaf‘. While we couldn’t go past this mangled metaphor from Labor Leader Bill Shorten as our category winner, it was just one in a rich field of mixed metaphors this year. Close runners up included the commentator who described a stand-off between Donald Trump and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos this way: ‘You want to play with me in the sandbox, then you better put on your helmet, pack a lunch and bring your flashlight‘. And an Australian journalist described politician Craig Kelly 4 ways at once: ‘Suddenly he stopped being just a background hiss on the office television, and stood out. Like a sore thumb. Then kept digging this morning.’

Lost in translation

By combining the Maori ‘Kia ora’ with the English ‘mate’, Coca-Cola thought it was getting local in some advertising on New Zealand vending machines. However, ‘mate’ also means ‘death’ in Maori, as most Kiwis know from the Ka Mate haka. So many read the message entirely in Maori, which translates as Hello, death.

Non-apology of the year

When discussing why Twitter had suspended a controversial columnist from the platform, CEO Jack Dorsey explained: ‘We likely over-rotated on one value, then let the rules react to rapidly changing circumstances (some we helped create)’.

An office worker carries a box of items from their desk.

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