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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Gets our GOAT

by Brenda Looper | January 4, 2023 at 3:49 a.m.
Brenda Looper


Eventually I'll submit a word or phrase to be banished by Lake Superior State University and it will actually be picked. Not this time, though.

Apparently not enough people were annoyed by the overuse and misuse of the word "radical" (I'm fairly sure I made at least one more nomination this past year, but I've slept since then), especially in the context of political campaigns. I could almost stomach it in the '80s slang sense, but as a label for anyone even slightly to the left or right of yourself? No, thank you. When behaving as a normal, caring human being gets someone labeled as "radical," we've lost the plot. Trying to overthrow the government or eradicate the world of everyone who doesn't agree with you is radical; peacefully ensuring that others have the same rights you've always enjoyed isn't ... or it shouldn't be.

But I have to agree with the top pick on the 2023 Banished Words List, released on New Year's Eve. As the university said of GOAT in its news release announcing the list, "The acronym for Greatest of All Time gets the goat of petitioners and judges for overuse, misuse, and uselessness. 'Applied to everyone and everything from athletes to chicken wings,' an objector declared. 'How can anyone or anything be the GOAT, anyway?' Records fall; time continues. Some sprinkle GOAT like table salt on 'anyone who's really good.'"

Like "radical," GOAT reminds me of the quote from Syndrome in "The Incredibles" (yes, I watch a lot of Disney movies; wanna have a go at me?): "When everyone's super, no one will be." We've really lost all sense of proportion and nuance when we throw words and phrases around like sprinkles on ice cream, which, if it's really good ice cream, doesn't need it anyway. Especially if they're those tasteless jimmies.

Another nominator noted that "ironically, 'goat' once suggested something unsuccessful; now, GOAT is an indiscriminate flaunt." Indeed, the Grammarphobia blog in 2016 wrote, "The word 'goat' has been used in American sports since the early 1900s, first as a derisive term for a player responsible for a team's loss, and later, often in capital letters, as an acronym for 'greatest of all time.'"

But wait, there's more! Astrologically, I'm a goat (Capricorn), as are many of my co-workers and friends. Other meanings through the years have included fool, and a licentious man (a randy old goat).

Frankly, if I hear GOAT and it's not referring to adorable kids prancing around (watching videos of baby goats is a great tension-reliever), I tune out. Not only is "Greatest of All Time" overused and annoying (the occasional clip of Muhammad Ali saying that is excused as he didn't use GOAT), it's highly presumptuous. But yeah, "Greatest So Far" doesn't have the same ring to it.

The same reasoning can easily be used for No. 6 on the list, "Amazing," one of three words/phrases that made a return to the list after being banished before (No. 9, "Absolutely," was kicked out in 1996, while No. 10, "It is what it is," was yeeted in 2008). The university wrote: "'Not everything is amazing; and when you think about it, very little is,' a dissenter explained. 'This glorious word should be reserved for that which is dazzling, moving, or awe-inspiring,' to paraphrase another, 'like the divine face of a newborn.' Initially banished for misuse, overuse, and uselessness in 2012. Its cyclical return mandates further nixing of the 'generic,' 'banal and hollow' modifier--a 'worn-out adjective from people short on vocabulary.'"

In what may be a first, the past year's Word of the Year from Merriam-Webster made an appearance on the list, at No. 4. "Nominators are not crazy," the university wrote of "Gaslighting," "by arguing that overuse disconnects the term from the real concern it has identified in the past: dangerous psychological manipulation that causes victims to distrust their thoughts, feelings, memories, or perception of reality. Others cited misuse: an incorrect catchall to refer generally to conflict or disagreement. It's too obscure of a reference to begin with, avowed sundry critics, alluding to the 1938 play and 1940/44 movies."

How else we're supposed to refer to this manipulation, well ... who knows?

Read more of the list at lssu.edu.

Joel Wilson of Highfill successfully called one of the phrases on this year's list, writing to me last month, "I would rather tear up $20 bills in a cold shower than hear 'It is what it is' one more time. I did not like it the first time and I don't like it now. The last couple years have been full of 'it ain't what it is' and 'it is what it ain't.'"

Other readers, like me, hoped but didn't get what they wanted. Tom Barron had urged, "Please banish 'be like.' Because? Because it just looks and sounds stupid (and it's bad grammatically.) That's all the reason I need." That's the reason so many of us have words that make us cringe, and that's good enough.

Amy Hall wanted "bespoke" ditched "due to its appeal to snobbery." I can't blame her for that. It has the same vibe as "curated" which, unless it refers to a museum exhibit or something similar, makes me roll my eyes.

Maybe next year we'll be luckier.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.


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