What Is a Vogue Word? Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

"The word awesome has become almost as ubiquitous and meaningless as the word love" (Paul Pearsall, AWE, 2007). (Brett Lamb/Getty Images)

A vogue word is a fashionable word or phrase that tends to lose its effectiveness through overuse. Also called a voguism.

Vogue words, says Kenneth G. Wilson, are "perfectly good Standard English words that suddenly become modish, so that for a time we hear them being used everywhere, by everyone, until we are utterly sick of them" (The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, 1993).

Examples and Observations

  • "[Some] vogue words are technical words clumsily applied to other fields. These include parameter, bottom line, interface, mode, and space; phrases like immediate feedback and close the loop; and, in a sense, ballpark figure, and touch base with you."
    (Matt Young, The Technical Writer's Handbook: Writing With Style and Clarity. University Science Books, 2002)
  • Iconic
    "Mr. Leopold is not turning 95 years old, but his iconic ice cream business is. . . .
    "Now owned by Peter's youngest son, Stratton, and his wife Mary, the iconic sweets shop on Broughton Street still serves its premium recipes in a fun, retro-style soda shop. . . .
    "She says they plan to offer plenty of room for guests to find a seat while hot dogs will be for sale and the iconic Leopold's portable carts will be on hand outside the store."
    ("B'Day Bash: Leopold's Celebrates 95 Years." Savannah Morning News, August 14, 2014)
  • Artisan
    "There are, I think, two ways one could read the fact that McDonald's is using the word artisan to market its chicken. On the one hand, it could be a self-aware joke meant to finally deal a death blow to one of the most grating words in the pop lexicon. The king of mass-produced fast food has officially appropriated a phrase that once denoted something expensive and handmade, thus rendering it fully devoid of meaning. In which case: McDonald's 1, upper-middle-class foodies 0.
    "The other possibility: The chain is struggling to reverse its sales woes, and bewildered by the brave new world ushered in by Shake Shack and Chipotle, it has latched on to 'artisan' as an inadvertently desperate-sounding synonym for 'less industrial.'”
    (Jordan Weissmann, "McDonald’s, Bewildered by Modernity, Is Now Selling an 'Artisan' Chicken Sandwich." Slate, April 27, 2015)
  • Favorite and Least Favorite Words: Awe and Awesome!
    - "'Awe,' a word we are about to lose, that has been robbed of its meaning by the unfortunate adjective 'awesome.' "Awe' meaning ecstatic, reverential feeling before Beauty, before the Magnificent. 'Awesome,' a tiresome word, flung indiscriminately in all directions, on all occasions until it has become so trivial, it is valueless.
    "'Awe,' to be used on rare occasions before the marvelous, the extraordinary. It conveys wonder and amazement. Even the sound conveys a feeling. Saying the word, the mouth opens in speechless delight before that which is greater than the self."
    (Elizabeth Strong-Cuevas, quoted by Lewis Burke Frumkes in Favorite Words of Famous People. Marion Street Press, 2011)
    - "In a world of sensory overload, most terms of acclaim are exaggerations. A pile of french fries hardly makes us tremble in awe, yet we call it awesome, exaggerating for the sake of persuasion. But because awesome is so worn out, the exaggeration doesn't register; it needs an element of novelty to help it to do so. Novelty gets attention. 'The fries were industrial-strength awesome.' 'The ride was shiver-me-timbers awesome.'"
    (Arthur Plotnik, Better Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives. Cleis Press, 2011)
    - "I'm just amazed that hundreds of people can gobble up this malarkey and repeat it, with straight faces. I'm equally amazed by the high regard in which HubSpot people hold themselves. They use the word awesome incessantly, usually to describe themselves or each other. That's awesome! You're awesome! No, you're awesome for saying that I'm awesome!"
    (Dan Lyons, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble. Hachette, 2016)
    - "Vogue words like awesome catch on because everyone is using them, and they irritate because everyone is using them. Adopters hear other people using awesome to indicate enthusiastic approval generally and pick it up because it gives them a sense of solidarity and group identity. Scorners resist awesome because they do not care to sound like those people.
    "Acceptance or rejection of group identity sharpens the reactions.
    "For example, sticklers will likely carp about impoverishment of vocabulary and semantic driftawesome in the 'enthusiastic approval generally' sense having little or nothing to do with awe (just as they would previously have objected to terrible for its attenuated connection to terror). For the stickler, disapproval is a badge of cultural and social superiority. For the adopter, approval is a thumb in the eye of the pretentious."
    (John E. McIntyre, "Shock and Awesome." The Baltimore Sun, December 23, 2015)
  • Viable
    "Viable means workable and likely to survive. It has become a 'vogue word' and is commonly used in the sense of workable or achievable. Adjectives such as durable, lasting, effective, and practical are more appropriate."
    (James S. Major, Writing Classified and Unclassified Papers in the Intelligence Community. Scarecrow Press, 2009)
  • Associate
    " You walk into a PetSmart, a supermarket for dog and cat supplies that allows customers to shop along with their animal companions. You hear a voice on a loudspeaker say urgently, 'Would an associate report to the rubber-toys aisle.' Instantly, a guy with a mop and pail appears, zeros in on the puddle behind a shamefaced puppy and takes care of the problem.
    "The job title of the person doing the mopping-up is associate. No longer is today’s man with a muck rake termed an employee; that description is deemed demeaning. Associate hints at managerial equality."
    (William Safire, "On Language: Vogue-Word Watch." The New York Times, July 15, 2009)
  • Unacceptable
    "Why is everyone using the word 'unacceptable' lately? An irate woman on Five Live phoned in this morning and said that it was 'completely unacceptable that the banks were gambling with our money.'
    "Tonight, on East Midlands Today, after a disturbing report about a sawn-up body found in a wheelie bin in a Nottingham suburb, a policeman said, 'This is a quiet residential area and, as such, this crime is totally unacceptable.'
    "A neighbour who was interviewed in the street said, 'I noticed the bin had been out on the pavement for three days, which is obviously unacceptable.'"
    (Sue Townsend, Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years. Penguin, 2010)
  • Image
    "A great darling among the loosely used pseudoscientific vogue words of recent years is image in the sense 'impression that others subconsciously have of someone.' A jaundiced observer of modern life might well suppose that what we actually are is not nearly so important as the image we are able--to use another vogue word--to project."
    (John Algeo and Thomas Pyles, The Origins and Development of the English Language, 5th ed. Thomson, 2005)
  • Feedback
    "Feedback. In its rigorous scientific sense, feedback is the return to an input of part of its output, so as to provide self-corrective action. Feedback is a vogue word in a loose sense for which response would be a perfectly adequate alternative, as in 'we got a lot of valuable feedback on our advertising campaign.'"
    (Ernest Gowers, et al. The Complete Plain Words, rev. ed. David R. Godine, 1988)
  • How to Resist Vogue Words
    "The best way to offset the harm of vogues is to stick resolutely, in speech and writing, to each vogue word's central meaning. Address an audience or a postcard, but not a problem or a question. Call a substance or a temperament volatile, but not an issue or a situation. Express sympathy far and wide, but keep empathy for aesthetics or psychiatry. Remember Tiny Tim and avoid naming things minuscule or minimal."
    (Jacques Barzun, Simple & Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers. Harper & Row, 1975)
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Vogue Word? Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/vogue-word-1692599. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). What Is a Vogue Word? Definition and Examples. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/vogue-word-1692599 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Vogue Word? Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/vogue-word-1692599 (accessed March 26, 2023).