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Draco, everybody, Draco

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Lake Superior State University in Michigan, an institution of higher learning that most of us hadn't heard of until it began publishing its annual list of "Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness," has released its latest, which was compiled, the university says, from nominations submitted worldwide.

"Amazing" tops this year's list as the most overused word, as in "Those socks are amazing!" and "My nap was amazing!"

I have some nominations of my own. For some reason, draconian is all over, appearing in place of simpler expressions like "cruel" and "excessively severe": A draconian penalty thwarted the Mudbugs' final drive. The news magazine The Week employed the word twice in one paragraph:

"This draconian legislation would give the government and copyright owners the power to shut down websites suspected of illegally sharing or selling movies, music, and other copyrighted material. ... To comply with this draconian law, said Rebecca MacKinnon in The New York Times, sites like Google and Twitter would need to employ thousands of people 'to monitor and censor user content.' "

Draconian is derived from the name Draco. He was a 7th century Greek legislator who wrote a code of laws that imposed the death penalty for even minor offenses. At one time, draconian was usually capitalized, but the capital "D" seems to have decreased in popularity as use of the word itself has increased. That's probably because most users don't know that it comes from a proper name.

Eclectic may be getting even more of a workout than draconian. It's applied to everything and everybody these days, and I don't understand how it can be applied to everybody. Or anybody, for that matter. The adjective eclectic means "selecting or choosing from various sources," and "made up of what is selected from different sources." A menu could be eclectic, or a repertoire, but a person? Well, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I guess. Maybe the woman in "Three Faces of Eve," but I'm skeptical of these multiple-personality things unless, like Dr. Jekyll, somebody's been drinking.

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