Worst Words of 2021

Worst Words of 2021

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.

2021 Winner: centres for national resilience

When is a quarantine centre not a quarantine centre? When it is a centre for national resilience. Federal authorities were proud to announce the first centre for national resilience would open in 2021. We should be thankful that hotel quarantine wasn’t rebranded as temporary in-bound accommodation for national resilience.


In an attempt to inoculate the population about the vaccine strollout, the Prime Minister and the federal health agency described the target for each stage as an allocation horizonBecause it doesn’t sound so bad if you miss an allocation horizon.

Former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian did a double adverb with pike when Sky News asked whether she would consider incentives for vaccinations. Absolutely potentially,’ she explained.

Doublespeak and spin

Overworked Amazon warehouse workers are encouraged to view themselves as industrial athletes. A leaked pamphlet set out that: ‘Here at Amazon, you will become an industrial athlete. Just like an athlete who trains for an event, industrial athletes need to prepare their bodies to be able to perform their best at work.’

Academics have persuaded officials in some parts of Australia to stop referring to ‘shark attacks’ in reports and warnings to tourists. It’s far too scary, they reckon, so we should call them negative encounters or interactions instead. As the Washington Post reported: ‘Survivors don’t necessarily agree’.

In the United States, it seems it is hard to admit that the police at times shoot people. Instead, the people who are shot experience a trooper-involved shooting or a police-involved shootingWe call this ‘deception-involved language’.

Still in law enforcement, Victoria Police used the term edged weapon to avoid saying ‘knife’. Officers confronted a man ‘who exited the car with the edged weapon’.

Can you imagine if Mick Dundee had tried it? ‘That’s not an edged weapon. This is an edged weapon.’

Buzzwords and jargon

Originally a word for a science fiction dystopia, Mark Zuckerberg unapologetically adopted metaverse when launching his new ‘Meta’ brand. His ‘Founder’s Letter, 2021’ explains that the ‘defining quality of the metaverse will be the feeling of presence.’ And apparently: ‘In this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram… Think about how many physical things you have today that could just be holograms in the future.’ We think that when COVID ends, we’ll probably want to actually leave the house rather than send our hologram.

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, are the latest crypto phenomenon to go mainstream. And they’re big business, with Christie’s auction house selling an NFT artwork for a whopping US$69.3 million this year.

But why not call this something understandable, like a ‘verifiable source file’ or ‘original digital file’. We guess if you are going to pay nearly $70 million for a computer file, you’d want it to sound fungible too.

Frankenwords and teen speak

Another year, another round of corporate advertising committing crimes against the English language. We use grammar, people, and it has some fundamental rules. Footy is not gooder and a razor cannot be the besterest a man can get. And we don’t want to have a Merry Cookiemas. Please. Just. Stop.

Teenagers have always been inventive with language, but every now and then they coin a term that deserves to disappear. Cheugy means that something is out of style or no longer fashionable, as in: ‘Those uggs are lowkey cheugy’.

A more perplexing example is the use of bussin for something good – but only apparently applied to food: this burger is bussin.

Mixed metaphor of the year

Lady Gaga embraced method acting as the Gucci heiress who murdered Maurizio Gucci. When she later drove past the scene of the crime, she felt as though she’d really killed someone. In the stomach. With pins. ‘I drove by where Maurizio was shot and I felt a pin drop in my stomach because I was so in my character, and I thought: ‘What have I done?’

Non-apology of the year

A beauty company touting its green credentials launched a new product labelled in large all caps with ‘HELLO I’M PAPER BOTTLE’. It was a standard plastic bottle wrapped in paper.

When challenged, the company said: ‘We used the term paper bottle to explain the role of the paper label surrounding the bottle,’ The Korea Times reported. ‘We overlooked the possibility that the naming could mislead people to think the whole packaging is made of paper. We apologize for failing to deliver information in a precise way,’ the statement added. We used to call this not telling the truth.

A person wearing a medical mask, gloves and protective suit holds their hands up as a signal to stop.

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