MELLIFLUOUS MESSAGING

19 words to retire in 2019—and lots of lively replacements

More words where these came from.
More words where these came from.
Image: Reuters/Catherine Benson
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Diversity is important—in schools, in the workplace, and in language. But not much thought is given to this critical topic in the linguistic context.

The mechanics of the internet mean that repeating the same old words and catchphrases yields greater returns in search and social media. As a result, we’ve all become SEO fanatics, hashtagging clichés instead of being creative about language.

But it’s a new year, and English is rich. So let’s ditch the platitudes, banalities, and bromides and take our minds for a ride. Do it for yourself. Do it for society. Make messaging mellifluous again.

It would be untoward of us to ask that you jettison favorite buzzwords of yore without offering substitutions to renew your lexicon—so we have some suggestions for replacements. And please do feel free to choose your own alternatives. We only ask that you leave the following words in the past:

  1. Adulting—Doing grown-up stuff might make you an adult, but using the word “adulting” is a sure sign of immaturity. Paying the bills? Just say you’re ripening, like a fruit. Going to work, too? That’s flowering. Making meals? Congratulations—you’re seasoning. Best of all, get your business done without making a fuss. That would be really adult.
  2. Binge—Watch all the TV and eat whatever you please, but binge-doing anything will ideally cease immediately. We’ve binged on the word binge and could stand to purge it from the common parlance. Wallow, luxuriate, and indulge with abandon. It makes what you love sound less gross.
  3. Boys will be boys—Never was a more trite observation made, and yet this one persists. Let’s defenestrate this formulation. There’s no replacement for this one, which provides neither an excuse nor an insight.
  4. Doggo and pupper—For a while we all went nuts with different names for the pups we love so much, and it was cute. But the doge is no longer pleased. This year, we’re going with the classic “dog” and the somewhat fancier “canine.” 
  5. Feels—Everyone has emotions and we support expressions of sentiment. Calling feelings feels, however—which we too have resorted to on occasion—is unnecessarily vague. Do explore your moods and spirit, just do so with more specificity.
  6. FOMONo mo’ FOMO. Fear of missing out, like social media addiction, is so 2018. The only thing you’re missing when you’re not on Facebook is a data privacy invasion. No one online is having that good of a time. If they were, they wouldn’t stop to document it in the hope of arousing our envy. So enjoy the moments and when you feel anxious about all the places you can’t be and the things you can’t see just call it what it is—resentment, jealousy, and envy.
  7. Foodie—You like food. That’s cool. So do we. That doesn’t make us foodies. It makes us human. If eating is your hobby and you’re way into knowing the ins and outs of your nourishment, you’re probably a gourmet or connoisseur, possibly a glutton, and likely not that fun to dine with.
  8. Guys—The problem with using guys with a group of people is that sometimes females are included in gatherings. Simply replace guys with “humans” which is a safe bet, isn’t gendered or sexist, and has a kind of futuristic ring.  
  9. Genius—Here’s the thing. Not everyone or everything can possibly be genius because when we consider everything exceptional, nothing is really special. So no more making much ado about nothing and average. Save the outrageous compliments for the truly amazing. Masterminds, giants, and greats are all awesome, and none will be offended by these characterizations.
  10. Hot take—You’re sure to bore when offering your “hot take.” Whether used ironically or sincerely, this phrase stinks of the internet. Cool it. Slow down and say something reasoned and meaningful. Present your “argument” or an “opinion” or a “position,” or forgo the introduction and see what the rest of us have to say about your thoughts. 
  11. Influencer—Those who affect others, generating admiration, envy, and  imitation should have a name, maybe something like “authorities” or “guides” or “leaders.” And if they are none of these things, but are simply peddlers of stuff who love Instagram and enjoy taking photos of themselves, let’s not call them anything at all and just stop following self-important know-nothings.
  12. Living my best life—By all means, try to be amazing and do great things. We all have ideals and aspirations and dreams. Calling efforts to enact them “living your best life” is absurd and only undermines them.
  13. Lol — Laughing out loud is fun. We should do it more. Using the abbreviation to describe amusement, however, is not. What’s wrong with saying “funny” to note a joke? Or go formal and say “humorous.” Words cost you nothing. Use them while we all still know how.
  14. Shithole—There is an actual word for a hole in which people defecate. It’s called a latrine. If you really must talk about a space or a place like a receptacle for human waste, choose the more elegant term for that high-low blend that’s the hallmark of any great stylist.  
  15. Snowflake—When discussing snow that falls from the sky and crystallizes in fine shapes, snowflake is an apt term. But when talking about someone weak who imagines they are unique, referring to this meteorological phenomenon is no longer cool, if it ever was. If you’re not the author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk—who popularized but did not invent what is now an alt-right insult—just let the snowflake melt into oblivion and choose precision when maligning an individual with the gall to feel distinct.
  16. Social justice warrior—True activists have a genuine impact on humanity and we wouldn’t advance without these types. But anyone who uses the term “social justice warrior” is either being derogatory or a fool, as those who dedicate themselves to the betterment of society are preoccupied with much more than lengthy and lofty titles.
  17. Thought leaders—It used to be that people whose thinking was influential were simply called “thinkers.” Someone who wasn’t much of a thinker or a linguist thought up thought leaders and we all went along thoughtlessly. Not anymore. Let’s respect experts and intellectuals but toss “thought leadership” and opt for masters, innovators, luminaries, and pioneers.
  18. Toxic—Unless someone has actually been poisoned, omit toxic from a description. Too much toxicity talk has caused the adjective to lose all its noxious power. This year, if a relationship is no good, call it pestilential instead. 
  19. Yay—Somehow this childish phrase has made its way back into our lives now that we’re all grown. Boo! To express triumph, happiness, joy, or pleasure, pick a precise term appropriate for the specific context, like “delightful” or “wonderful” or “fantastic” or “great.” The splendid and super news is there’s no shortage of positive options.

It is easier to talk to each other than ever—yet we take the art of communication less seriously. The internet has stripped English down to a language of catchphrases, abbreviations, and textspeak, and we must build it back up again. 

Abandoning vocabulary means losing more than just words, it means losing the rich knowledge that these words hold. So, in a time when many of us are looking for answers, we should turn to the ample verbiage that enriches the English language.