Worst Words of 2023

Worst Words of 2023

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.

2023 winner: bundle of rights

Earlier this year, the ACCC alleged that Qantas had been deceptive by selling flights that they knew were already cancelled. To avoid this charge, Qantas told the court that it doesn’t sell particular flights at all.

Instead, they sell passengers ‘a bundle of contractual rights’. Legal nitpicking like this just doesn’t make sense to consumers.

Aerial view of airplane with red jet engines.

People’s choice award: rapid unscheduled disassembly

When testing their new Starship spacecraft in April this year, SpaceX commentators were dismayed to see the craft explode soon after launch. They quickly recovered and started calling the explosion a ‘rapid unscheduled disassembly’ – a line repeated on SpaceX’s social media.

This innocuous phrase minimises the severity of the event. Fallout from the explosion landed on spectators, homes, cars and a wildlife refuge.

A rocket explodes leaving an orange plume of smoke in the night sky.
More corporate spin

Earlier this year OceanGate’s submarine imploded, killing all aboard. However, some tricky legal wording limited the company’s responsibility for this terrible event.

OceanGate classed passengers as crew and called them ‘mission specialists’ (despite one ‘specialist’ being a 19-year-old student in an unrelated field). This means that the company could take their ‘crew’ on the dive, which would otherwise have been illegal in this experimental and uncertified submarine. And the penalties for killing a crew member are far less than those for killing a passenger.

Political spin

In November, UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman decided to take a hard line on people experiencing homelessness. In a series of social media posts, she argued that many of these people were ‘living on the streets as a lifestyle choice’.

Journalists, other politicians, and people experiencing homelessness immediately pointed out the lack of compassion in pretending homelessness is a choice. And John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, confirmed there is no research to back this up.

And while we’re on housing, we must note a Victorian housing agency that announced that ‘Homes Victoria has commenced taking steps towards retiring our older public housing towers.’ It’s unclear from this language whether they’ll be demolishing and rebuilding the towers or refurbishing them.

Given this can be a very stressful time for residents, it is critical to use clear language so residents know what is happening.

Buzzwords and jargon

Corporations enjoy reinventing the wheel when it comes to language. The latest word subjected to this treatment is feedback, which in some companies is now called ‘feedforward’. This potentially confusing term has grown in popularity in an attempt to reduce employees’ anxiety around feedback. We just don’t know if ‘feedforward’ is any less stressful.

When is problem solving not problem solving? When it’s solutioning. This ugly alternative has been used in IT teams and organisations for a while, but this year it gained traction more widely. We’re not averse to technical terms when needed. But there’s no need to create a new verb when a perfectly good one already exists.

Frankenwords

Cars are getting bigger and heavier, and many commentators want to talk about this. The problem is that they’re all talking about ‘autobesity’ – a new word coined to describe the trend. We polled our colleagues to see what people thought ‘autobesity’ meant, and most thought it meant to make yourself fat. Let’s skip the confusing new word and keep our language trim.

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Feeling unhappy and unfulfilled is not a new phenomenon in the workplace, but there’s a new word for it: resenteeism. This is 2023′s twist on presenteeism (where you still turn up to work, but you’re either not very productive or actually rather ill). ‘Presenteeism’ makes some sense when compared to ‘absenteeism’. But ‘resenteeism’ takes it a step further (away from any clear meaning).
Gobbledegook of the year
Property prices are a perennial topic, but that doesn’t mean we always understand what people are talking about. Explaining a new report, CoreLogic spokesperson Eliza Owen said:
It varies a little bit because there’s been different schemes and things introduced in the periods of upswing, but last cycle shows a pretty quick drop off of first home buyer activity after the expiry of HomeBuilder and the rapid nature of home value uplift has contributed to that as well.
From schemes to swings, cycles to drop-offs – there’s a lot going on in this 51-word sentence. But the bit of gobbledegook we found most egregious is a phrase at the end: ‘the rapid nature of home value uplift’. What’s wrong with simply saying ‘house prices are going up fast’?
Non-apology of the year
Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis released a video apologising for the character references they wrote for convicted rapist Danny Masterson. In the video, they avoided a true apology, saying, ‘We are aware of the pain that has been caused by the character letters that we wrote on behalf of Danny Masterson.’ They continued, ‘They [the letters] were intended for the judge to read … and not to undermine the testimony of any of the victims or retraumatise them in any way.’   Find us in the media
Our 2023 Worst Words competition is now closed. See our terms and conditions  for more information.

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