Why 2009 is no time to be iconic

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"It's that time of year again" so a bunch of "maverick" American academics has completed their "desperate search" for words and phrases that have become "iconic" of our apparent love of meaningless slogans, stock responses and exaggeration.

Lake Superior State University's 34th annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness sifted through 5,000 nominations to arrive at the 15 sayings they would most like to stop hearing. Environmental jargon featured prominently, with "carbon footprint" and the overuse of "green".

"Icon" or "iconic" – and its use in relation to the most mundane of subjects –was one of the most nominated terms. Also on the list are: "desperate", thanks to the tendency of journalists to describe any search as just that in order to imply greater drama; "not so much" when a simple "no" would do; and "it's that time of year again".

"When is it not 'that time of year again?'" the Canadian Kathleen Brosemer wrote in her nomination. "Just get to the point... and cut out six useless, annoying words."

John Flood, from Wicklow in Ireland, was among the many hoping for fewer "icons" – a visual symbol or representation which inspires worship or veneration. "Everyone and everything cannot be 'iconic'. Can't we switch to 'legendary' or 'famous for'?"

Jodi Gill, of Wisconsin, said: "It's overused to the point where everything from a fast-food restaurant chain to celebrities is 'iconic'."

The US presidential election campaign contributed "maverick", which the Republican candidate, John McCain, used to distance himself from the establishment, and "First Dude", the title given to the husband of his running mate, Sarah Palin. Lake Superior university said the list was not meant to be a form of censorship, but a light-hearted way of making people think.

The American author Maureen Freely, who is now an academic at Warwick University, said she had compiled a personal list. This year, she would try to stop saying "tick the box", "too much information", "iconic" and "possibly 'terrific'... although that would be very painful".