News & Politics

The Most Loathsome Words of 2017

Some personal news: We're architecting. Image via iStock.

1. To architect. Ivanka Trump got what was coming to her, via countless book reviews, columns, and tweets, for embracing (though sadly, not inventing) the year’s worst neologism—architect as a verb—which she used more than once and with a straight face in her book Women Who Work.

2. Massive. I actually tweeted about it in 2016, but the trendiness of this formerly great word reached critical, uh, mass this year—and I expect will surpass that in the coming months. I never thought enormous, vast, and gigantic could sound so fresh. (Writers, just start noticing how often you use it, along with everyone else—you might think twice.)

3. Fact-based. I wrote a column last year about my aversion to almost-anything-based (and -themed). But my feeling about fact-based is more that it seems to hint at what it means rather than coming out and saying it with confidence, particularly in this day of “fake news” accusations.

4. Roll back. I tweeted about this in both 2016 and 2017—the first time because rolling back sounded more like advertising (or more precisely, blowout-sale) lingo than journalistic. A mere four months later, as the new Trump administration got its hands on Obama’s record, it was so gratingly ubiquitous as to cry out for at least an occasional alternative.

5. Eponymous. Nearly always unnecessary—the four-syllable showoff in the room. This year, I saw it more than ever. My gripe, sparked by Mary Tyler Moore obituaries and tributes in January:

6. Take to. In August, I tweeted about the overuse of “taking to Twitter.” Then just this month, a caption in the Washington Post print edition said, “People take to skating at the Wharf Ice Rink . . .” How is that different from “People skate . . .”?

7. Some personal news. 

8. Dangling modifiers.

9. Thread. I haven’t tweeted about this, because I admit I’ve written a couple of threads myself (I think exactly two)—and some others I’ve read have been informative, powerful, and/or moving. But if I were to tweet about it, I’d say: “Thread = that guy who corners you at a party and says, ‘This’ll only take a second . . .’ ” Too many threads are just too much, defeating the purpose of Twitter, it seems to me. Speaking of which . . . .

10. Characters 141 through 280. 

Not only do I thank Mark Harris for turdblock (my favorite word of 2017), but I’m an editor—280 just isn’t as much fun.

Senior Managing Editor

Bill O’Sullivan is senior managing editor; from 1999 to 2007, he was a features editor. In another lifetime, he was assistant managing editor. Somewhere in the middle, he was managing editor of Common Boundary magazine and senior editor at the Center for Public Integrity. His personal essays have been cited three times among the notable essays of the year in The Best American Essays. He teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.