At the start of every year, Michigan’s Lake Superior State University releases a tongue-in-cheek list of words and terms to be banished from the English language on the grounds that they are misused, overused, or useless. The 2013 list includes “fiscal cliff,” “double down” and “bucket list.”
The environmental lexicon has a few candidates for banishment, and candidate Number One is “pristine.” It’s clearly misused, overused and useless.
Misused: A recent news report declared Lake Superior to be the “most pristine” of the Great Lakes. That’s like saying something is the “most perfect.” It’s either perfect or not, pristine or not. There are no degrees of perfect or pristine. “Pristine” means pure.
Overused: Far too often, a writer trying to communicate the wonder of a natural scene or resource will fall back on “pristine” as a lazy substitute for more precise description. In every panorama is something singular – the shading of leaves, grasses or birds, the topography, the web of life. That’s what merits communication.
Useless: there is plenty of beauty in the natural world. Minnesota contains a wealth of it: monumental cliffs along the North Shore; expansive open spaces in the southwest; gawky white pelicans, dignified moose and venerable sturgeon. None of it is pristine in the sense the word is usually intended – untouched by the supposedly corrupting hand of civilization. We have touched it all, for better or worse.
When it comes to environmental discourse, let’s purely place “pristine” on the junk heap. And let’s celebrate the glory of nature with fresh language in 2013.