Forget banning words, Wayne State lists 10 words it wants to revive

Jan 3, 2012

Lake Superior State University a few days ago issued its annual list of Banished Words and phrases for 2011.

Now Wayne State University has issued its own top 10 list of "remarkably useful and expressive words that deserve more chances to enrich our language."

Beaufort Cranford is with Wayne State, where he curates the university's Word Warriors Word of the Week. (The tagline on the Word Warriors page says "bringing back great words.) Cranford and other WSU staff vote on their favorite words of the week until they boil it down to a Top 10 list.

Here are the results:

Antediluvian – Antiquated; old-fashioned; out of date. Literally “before the flood,” referring to the Biblical deluge. This company’s vacation policy is positively antediluvian, so I’m giving you three weeks off this year.

Erstwhile– Former; bygone. Rampantly misused. Roger had disturbing reasons to suspect that Rachel, his erstwhile lover, had hacked into his email accounts.

Execrable– Atrocious; wretched; abominable. Alice may have a Ph.D., but her spelling is execrable.

Frisson – Thanks to French for this word meaning that sudden, involuntary shiver we may feel at times of great emotion. Albert knew he’d be glad to see Victoria, but he wasn’t expecting a powerful frisson of pleasure when he took her hand.

Parlous – Dangerous or risky. Variant of Middle English “perilous.” Prospects for Yazoo City grew increasingly parlous as the Mississippi’s record flood rolled southward.

Penultimate– Next to last. Everyone’s heard of the Last Supper, but the Penultimate Supper has been largely forgotten.

Sisyphean– Actually or apparently endless and futile. After Sisyphus, doomed by the gods to roll a stone uphill, only to have it always roll back down. Washington endured a Sisyphean nightmare of whipping raw recruits into shape, only to see them melt away when their one-year enlistments expired (Ron Chernow, in Washington).

Supercilious – Contemptuous; disdainful; condescending. I knew I was about to go into the tank socially when I noticed the supercilious way she was looking at my red shoes.

Transmogrify- To change completely, usually grotesquely, in appearance or form. So Gregor drifted off to sleep, never dreaming he was in a Kafka story and would transmogrify into a hideous insect overnight.

Truckle– Submit obsequiously; be subservient; kowtow. When I’m in the presence of a powerful person, my own concept of equality gets blurry and I have a regrettable tendency to truckle, if only to be polite (Ian Frazier, in Travels in Siberia).

For kicks, I wrote two news spots using WSU's Top 10 words, one of which you can read below:

You might think it antediluvian to use words some people have never heard of, but the folks at Wayne State University don’t think so. They want to bring back words that seem old or out of date and have people use them in everyday language. Parlous? Perhaps. But no more risky than giving your erstwhile boyfriend the password to your email account. Yikes.

I have to admit, I experienced a frisson of excitement when I went to write this news spot. Fitting in words like execrable into a 45 second story can seem a Sisyphean task.

So I humbly truckle to you, dear listener: If you think you can do a better job, go for it! (And I’m not being supercilious.)

And now for the penultimate word: transmogrify. If you don’t know what that means, check out Kafka’s Metamorphosis...or this Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.