Columns

Gimme Shelter: Word(s) of 2021

What was your word or phrase that defined 2021?

Topping the list, after Gimme Shelter’s team evaluated extensive research, including focus groups and wide-ranging, scientifically conducted surveys, is: “What?!”

We’re pleased that we came up with something close to what the cold-eyed (and hearted) language constables of Lake Superior State University (LSSU) have sent to the gallows in their annual (they’ve been at this since 1976), “Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.”

Taking top honors on the list of clichés that should be avoided like the plague is, Wait, what?

Reason for banishment? The Robespierres at LSSU dispatched the phrase to the guillotine because, “The two-part halting interrogative is disingenuous, divergent, deflective, and other damning words that begin with the letter d.”

Other utterances that deserved a swift and merciless death, according to LSSU are, No worries, since it “incorrectly substitutes “You’re welcome” when someone says, “Thank you.” (Gimme Shelter also proposes that No problem should be given a rest, remembering playwright Harold Pinter, who once responded to someone using the phrase by saying, “I wasn’t anticipating one.”

Other examples of overused 2021 phrases cataloged by LSSU include Deep dive. “Do we need ‘deep?’” the word executioners ask. “Does anyone dive into the shallow end?”

You’re on mute. “It’s time for everyone to figure out where the mute button is.”

And the once cool, but now cold as death, Circle back. “The most overused phrase … since ‘synergy,’ which we banished in 2002 as evasive blanket terminology and smarty-pants puffery.”

At the end of the day. Even though that phrase was banished by LSSU in 1999, it has persisted and probably will until …

Summing up, LSSU President Rodney S. Hanley said, “Taking a deep dive at the end of the day and then circling back make perfect sense. Wait, what?”

Also, at this time of year, it’s time to turn to our old friend, the language samurai David Lozell Martin (simonandschuster.com/authors/David-Lozell-Martin/1913538), a journalist, editor and best-selling author of a dozen novels and one of the best modern American memoirs, “Losing Everything.” In a pronunciamento from his citadel on the Delmarva Peninsula (named for the brave and noble Delmarva tribe), Mr. Martin also weighed in on what LSSU’s president described as “smarty-pants puffery.” Mr. Martin,the floor is yours:

Americans can’t stomach phonies. We reserve a special level of gall for people who misuse the language under the belief they are coming across as grammatically superior. One example is the use of “I” over “me.” People hear, “Johnny and me are going to town,” and they know that’s wrong but, nevertheless, some misguided snoots assume that “I” is generally more correct.

“Please give your comments to Bill and I.” “Join my beautiful spouse and I for a holiday party.”

You don’t have to know the official rules and reasoning for using “I” or “me.” All you have to do is take out the surrounding words and see if “I” or “me” sounds better when standing alone. You wouldn’t say, “Please give your comments to I.” Or, “The award was given to I.”

As with our appendix, the grammatical evolution of “whom” has rendered the word vestigial. “Who” refers to the subject while “whom” refers to the object. But if you’re going to make a mistake between these two words, err on the side of the common usage of “who.” Don’t put on airs with an ungrammatical “whom.”

“Whom do you trust?” Correct. “Who do you trust?” Incorrect, but becoming acceptable. “Whom do you think is a better worker?” Incorrect and snooty; don’t do it.

“Begging the question” is a phrase people misuse thinking it makes them sound smart. It’s often used these days to mean “raise a question.”

“The quarterback is out, which begs the question: can the team score points on Sunday?”

No.

“Begs the question” has a specific use in logic. You use “begs the question” when a reply simply restates the question rather than answering it, or the reply is based on an unsupported premise.

“Why is she so popular? Because so many people love her!” The answer “begs the question” because it restates what’s in the question.

English is a beautiful language, and we should all strive to use it correctly. But if you are going to make a grammatical mistake, don’t make one that gives the impression you’re ignorant and a pompous ass.

Thank you, Sir.

Finally, we consulted the elves and gnomes of the Oxford Dictionary, beavering away in shadowy caves near the River Cherwell, who emerged, blinking into the light, to declare that their Word of the Year is Vax.

It was chosen, they whispered, because after “our lexicographers began digging into our English language corpus data, it quickly became apparent that vax was a particularly striking term. A relatively rare word until this year … It has generated numerous derivatives that we are now seeing in a wide range of informal contexts, from vax sites and vax cards to getting vaxxed and being fully vaxxed. No word better captures the atmosphere of the past year than vax.”

Yes. Vax and fully vaxxed. Words to literally live by.