Words of Wisdumb

How many words did you use in 2017? I didn’t use that many. I’ve become one of those old guys who just sits around and grumbles. But most of us used some words, and some of us used the word “feminism” more so than usual. Lookups increase 70% over 2016 on Merriam-Webster.com, leading Merriam-Webster to name “feminism” as its Word of the Year for 2017.

“Youthquake,” meaning “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people,” has been around for more than fifty years. Still, Oxford Dictionaries’ lexicographers found a five-fold increase in its use between 2016 and 2017. (I had to lookup five-fold. I thought I used to know what it means, but I wasn’t sure.) This made “youthquake” the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2017.

One has to question the accuracy of Oxford’s and Merriam-Webster’s methodology. By only counting hits online, it leaves out those of us more mature lexicographers who use hardbound dictionaries, like the one on the shelf by my 24-volume set of the 1962 Collier Encyclopedia. I looked up words like “standard deduction” and “personal exemption” and “dependent exemption” in an attempt to see what the new tax act has done to my family.

One of my sons is married with two children. In 2017 he can deduct $28,900 from taxable income – a standard deduction of $12,700 plus four exemptions totaling $16,200. In 2018, because the standard deduction is being increased, but exemptions disappearing, he can deduct only $24,000. In other words, thanks to the new tax act he will pay taxes on $4,900 more dollars than now. How about “sleight of hand” being the Families With Children Word of the Year for 2017.

Personal and dependent exemptions are words that are going away. Other words may be also. The annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness is published annually by Northern Michigan’s Lake Superior State University. “Let me ask you this”, “impactful”, “ton”, and “nothingburger” made the list. I’d never heard of a nothingburger. Being New Mexican, all I ever hear about is the competition for the state’s best chili-cheeseburger, which is not nothing. Blake’s Lot-a-Burger currently holds the title.

“Dish”, “drill down”, “pre-owned”, “onboarding/offboarding”, and “gig economy” also made the list. While you “let that sink in”, think about “hot water heater”. I don’t understand doing away with the latter. Without a hot water heater, how could I direct my plumber to the problem?

“Covfefe” not only made the list, but no one other than the President seems to know what it means. I asked my two-year old grandson, who speaks both French and English inasmuch as he lives in Brussels, if he knew. He nodded yes and pointed to his potty. “False news” also needs to go bye bye, but interestingly, it wasn’t the most annoying. The most annoying word in America, according to another college poll, is “whatever”.

To me, more annoying than “whatever”, is the last word on the list of banished words, “unpack”. The weatherman on Channel 13 cannot give a forecast without saying, “Let me tell you what’s going on first, and then I’ll unpack it for you later.” I’m really tired of the word “unpack”, but not as tired as I’d be of the weather report being false news. When the weatherperson says that we have received no measurable precipitation for 91 days, that’s the truth.

Another Michigan school, Detroit’s Wayne State, is attempting to bring back into our conversation words that have fallen out of favor. I like them all. Words like “gauche”. How gauche are those who misuse and overuse and in general make useless the Queen’s English. Also “blithering” may make a comeback. I hope it does. It describes an idiot so well. But best of all, Wayne State wants to bring back “mugwump”. In case you don’t know, a mugwump is a person who straddles the fence on a given issue, won’t take one side or the other. There he sits on the fence, his mug on one side and his wump on the other. It’s my candidate for the Easiest to Define Word of 2017. No need to look it up online.

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