The Shitty Words Power Rankings: 9/23/2021


Old man reads book in library.
THIS guy gets it.

Words: There are loads of ‘em. You ever see a real Oxford English Dictionary? Oh my God, dude. Just FULL of words. SO many words. All the hits like “the” and “sink” and “when,” but even some real deep cuts like “prestidigitation.”


So why do people pick a few of them and ride them into the ground like they’re fanny packs in 1991 and also fanny packs in 2021? I have no idea. Other than, you know, the creeping insecurity that if everyone else is using them there must be something to it and if you don’t start using them you won’t sound as smart as everyone else.


ASIDE from that, I mean.


So here we go with the inaugural edition of the Shitty Words Power Rankings: a periodic look at the words and phrases that are — and this is a technical term — completely fucked out. Avoid at all costs in your content marketing, lest you sound like some third-tier Salon writer trying their hardest to sound like a second-tier Atlantic writer.



5. Liminal

Last month: Not ranked


While “area in between this thing and that other thing” might be clunky, construction-wise, you don’t need to take it all the way and keep “liminal” to describe any person, place or thing that’s slightly off-center. One of the New York Times Norm MacDonald obits noted, “There’s a lot of fun to be had in this liminal space between earnestness and just kidding.” Congratulations. You’ve dead-frogged comedy in an entirely new way.


4. Skillset

Last month: Not ranked


Skills. You have skills. Not skillsets. You added syllables to say nothing. Congratulations. See also, “Price point.”


3. “Do better”

Last month: Not ranked


For when you want to posture at moral judgements, but you’re not convinced you’re releasing enough of a bilious cloud of smugness. Not at all surprising this had prominent placement in a Ted Lasso episode.


2. Toxic

Last month: Not ranked


There was a point in time where “toxic” may have had some utility to it, but it’s been spread so far and wide as to have divested of any meaning other than “thing I don’t like.” (The same phenomenon applies to “gaslighting” which went from a pretty fun movie to a great obscure reference to become “Someone told me I was wrong.”)


1. Trope

Last month: Not ranked


For 10-plus years, this is the king-hell daddy of beat-to-death words. Out of academia and worming its way into cultural criticism and from there, to the world at large, “trope” is infuriating because it’s supposed to mean something akin to metaphor, but instead gets used like “cliche.” But cliches are just cliches and don’t have the veneer of a PhD in Lit Crit tweeding their way through a rainy Tuesday afternoon, so we get clubbed about the head and neck with “trope.”

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