Worst Words of 2022

Every year we call attention to the worst examples of buzzwords, jargon, doublespeak and corporate spin. Our aim is to improve the quality of public language and encourage everyone to adopt a plainer style of talking. Here is our shortlist for this year.

2022 Winner: integrity issue

When lions escaped their enclosure at Taronga Zoo, the zoo gave us a prime example of spin. When is a broken fence not a broken fence? When it’s merely an integrity issue. Despite this less-than-transparent language, we’re pleased to report the staff in the zoo did an excellent job of managing the event, and everyone was kept out of harm’s way.

Spin and doublespeak

Lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) may frighten Dorothy. But for the rest of us, inflation is this season’s big concern. To protect their bottom line without scaring consumers, American telecommunications company Verizon added an economic adjustment charge to all its plans. And while the price of the plans did increase, a spokesperson clarified, ’This is not a price plan increase.’

It wasn’t just businesses indulging in doublespeak this year, politicians were at it too. Russian President Vladimir Putin described the invasion of Ukraine as peacekeeping duties. We’re reminded of a commandment from the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984: ’War is peace.’ Given that Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and had relatives killed in the Holocaust, Putin’s classification of the war as denazification is also disturbing.

Former PM Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to 5 ministries, an act that an inquiry later found was likely to undermine public trust. To address the issue, Morrison put out a statement that is a masterclass in officialese. Our pick of the gobbledegook: ’The authorities were established as a dormant redundancy and where enlivened relevant Ministers and officials were engaged.’ Anyone feeling more inclined to trust politician-speak after this?

The then PM also warned us that a national anti-corruption commission could turn Australia into ’some kind of public autocracyTo be clear, an ’autocracy’ is a country run by a single powerful person – such as a monarch. A ’public autocracy’, where everyone has the power, is what we’d call a democracy. But ’democracy’ just doesn’t do the trick when trying to scare us off an anti-corruption commission. 

Another politician using language easy to misunderstand is former MP Dave Sharma. When discussing his party’s work on climate change, he noted, ’We had a sincerity deficit on this issue. That’s a brand new way to say someone lacks honesty. 

Buzzwords and jargon

Starting our list of buzzwords and jargon is a newly prominent term from the Victorian Government. As we face increasingly severe flood and fire seasons, the government is ensuring communities have access to the equipment needed to set up an emergency base. But they’ve dubbed these resources community contingency caches. Surely ’emergency supplies’ is easier to say on a radio in a disaster.

Speaking of new phrases, the Australian Government has added a new term to the industrial relations landscape, an area already brimming with jargon. It has flagged its intention to protect the rights of employee-like workersWhile this might be good news for gig-economy workers, it’s bad news for those of us who long for a simple definition of ’workers’ and ’employees’ that everyone can understand. 

Quiet quitting also came to our attention this year. And gig-economy workers can be glad they miss out on this particular bit of corporate-speak. This  buzzword is as widespread as it is confusing because no one is actually quitting. Instead, employees are simply working to rule: completing their contracted duties during their contracted hours. Given the massive shift in work culture over the last few years, let’s drop the buzzwords and talk about what’s really happening: a push for better work–life balance.

Frankenwords

Consumers may start pushing for better product–price balance with shrinkflation becoming a very hot topic this year. Reducing the size of a product while keeping the price the same is not a new concept. But with more and more companies using the technique to protect their bottom lines, the word has come to prominence for all the wrong reasons.

Mixed metaphor of the year

Before we had inflation to worry about, the United States’ political climate was a cause for concern. Discussing the events of 6 January 2021, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said she hoped that the House Select Committee would uncover the facts of what happened that day and fill in the dots of that storyLet’s hope this story is just the facts, ma’am.

Non-apology of the year

It seems those in power rarely understand that an apology must admit a mistake. Western Australia Police Commissioner Col Blanch’s non-apology is an example of what not to do. Apparently apologising for insensitive comments about the alleged murder of an Indigenous teenager in Perth, Blanch said, ’I regret the impact of my words if that’s upset the community.’ Apologising for the offence caused is not the same as apologising for the act that caused the offence.