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SA's 'vertical consumption' a standout winner for Worst Words of 2020


Stand up and raise a glass, South Australia: “Vertical consumption” – state government pandemic jargon for drinking while standing – has claimed the Plain English Foundation’s golden gong for the worst words thrown up by a very strange year.

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Since 2010, the Plain English Foundation, an Australian organisation which works with business to improve the standard of public language, has curated an annual list of the worst words and phrases.

The foundation said that the pandemic had generated many worthy contenders for 2020, but the invention and official use of “vertical consumption” to describe whether or not drinking was permitted while standing at SA venues under Covid health restrictions was a clear winner.

“When South Australia announced it would ease coronavirus restrictions and allow people to drink in bars while standing up, it was cause to celebrate,” the foundation said.

“When the SA Government decided to describe this as ‘vertical consumption’, we thought they’d started their own tipple a tad too early.”

Previous winners include corporate doublespeak, such as Orica referring to chemical leaks as “fugitive emissions”, and Volkswagen citing ‘possible emissions non-compliance’ when it was caught cheating on environmental tests.

In 2018, the ABC won the annual gong for using “external career development opportunities” when firing staff.

For 2020, the foundation voted”alternative facts’ the worst phrase of the decade.

The phrase was coined in 2017 by White House staffer Kellyanne Conway to defend press secretary Sean Spicer’s blatant lies about the attendance numbers at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.

Plain English executive director Neil James said the phrase stood out in a post-truth period when global politics took an Orwellian turn.

“This outrageous take on dishonesty was our clear winner in a decade that saw democracy decline,” Dr James said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Politicians are known for obfuscation, but ‘alternative facts’ was particularly worrying.

“It suggests our elected leaders can be right even when they are factually wrong. That sets a dangerous precedent for democracy.”

Here are some other winners of the Plain English Foundation’s worst phrases of 2020:

Discretionary essentials

This oxymoron of the year emerged from the retail sector and refers to spending on “discretionary essentials” for home renovations and office supplies.


Dumping a romantic partner on Zoom.


A real estate sector-driven word that describes suburbs that attract ‘hip’ residents.

A magnetic and euphonic building

The real estate sector also generated the mixed metaphor of the year: “A magnetic building both lyrical and euphonic, driven by pizzazz and charm”.

Sensitive receivers

A tunnel construction project described how its noise abatement was “designed to minimise noise and vibration impacts on sensitive receivers” – that is, homes, schools and hospitals.

Efforting outreach

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany explained President Trump was trying to contact the family of a police shooting victim by saying: “We are efforting outreach”.

The full list can be found here.

-with AAP

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