Banished words are epic fail


Recently I blogged about how the internet was instrumental in helping to coin and spread new phrases in China. However, as with all things, there is another side to the coin.

The internet has also been responsible for particular other words and phrases gaining notoriety around the world, words that have become so overused and misused that they have made a list of ‘banished words’ for 2011, as collated by Lake Superior State University, a small college in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. They make one of these every year, the first list made back in 1976, when the “winner” was “at this point in time”.

Unsurprisingly, well-known phrases that are ubiquitous on the internet had no delay in being included on the list – the words “epic” and “fail”, often seen together, were shoe-ins for a list of banished words. The word “epic”, originally referring to the works of great Greek and Roman poets for the tales of heroes and Gods that they penned, has now come to be a word that is thrown around so much that it has lost all emphatic purpose. The word was being used (and overused) back when I was at college, all those years ago (“dude, that is so epic“), but today it seems to have reached a critical mass.

Likewise, “fail” (not “failure”), referring to something that has met disaster, has been not only seen uttered by the online masses but has pervaded offline communication, too – a few months ago I saw somebody trip over in a mall, and somebody nearby laughed and condescendingly shouted “Ha! Fail”. The term being used this way originated online, where it was used as a caption for photos depicting something going horribly wrong. For something gone completely and disastrously wrong, the term “epic fail” is often used.

However, these two strong contenders were not hackneyed enough to make the number 1 spot: that was left for the term “viral”.

“Viral,” often used to describe the rapid spreading of videos or other content over the Internet, leads the list for 2011.

“This linguistic disease of a term must be quarantined,” Kuahmel Allah of Los Angeles said in making a nomination.

With the ever-increasing popularity of social bookmarking and news aggregation sites, where people submit links to online content which increases in visibility on the site the more votes it receives from viewers, the word “viral” (or the phrase “going/gone viral”) is used to describe content that has reached a certain (yet undefined) huge amount of attention from online viewers. A recent example was the video of a homeless man called Ted who has a fantastic radio voice – when I first watched the video it had around 70,000 views and I felt like I was late to the party. The video was eventually pulled citing ridiculous copyright claims, but by that point had amassed well over 10 million views – using the parlance of our times, the video had most definitely “gone viral”.

Unlike “epic fail”, at least the etymology of the term “viral” makes sense – the more people view the content, the more they link it to their friends and contacts, whether by email, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other communication channel they might like. Their friends and contacts are likely to do the same, thus the content spreads like a virus.

Other words and phrases that made the list include “wow factor,” “a-ha moment,” “back story” and “BFF” (Best Friends Forever). The conversion of the words “Facebook” and “Google” from nouns to being used as verbs also gained the ire of the listmakers.

I’m a little relieved to know that I’m not the only one who gets a little irked by the overuse of these kinds of words. Obviously the ‘banning’ of such words is a light-hearted dig at how these words have come to be thrown around too much, but personally, I could do without hearing the word “epic” used in every other sentence sometimes…