Gary Brown: Too easy to use banned words
Today, as the “wordsmith” that I fancy myself, I’m going to throw myself “under the bus” and “author” a column about how easy it is in this “post-9/11” world to use at “random” words and phrases that appear on Lake Superior State University’s banned-words list.
That’s five of them out of the way in one paragraph.
Or, as the list would want me to avoid saying, “six is the new five.”
Since the ’70s
As they have been doing for more than 30 years, the linguists at Lake Superior State compiled their list of offending words and phrases – this year’s has 19 -- right before New Year’s. Officially known as the “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness,” it was released Monday.
This was weeks too late to prevent journalists such as myself from referring abundantly to “Black Friday,” in an apparent attempt to “decimate” the language.
The tradition began, “back in the day,” long before geeks and sports enthusiasts even thought of “Webinar” and “waterboarding,” which are two words banished from the language by the 2007 list.
The first list, in 1976, included only 10 words. They obviously were tossed from a “perfect storm” created by political events, newspeak and “pop” talk at the time. For example, the list included “input,” “dialogue,” “détente,” “call for resignation” and “at this point in time.”
Don’t get “emotional,” but so far we’ve used 15 of the 19 banned words -- that doesn’t even count the bad words from three decades ago -- and we haven’t even reached this column’s second subhead.
Why the list
OK, it would be easy to say that the banned-words list was a way for Lake Superior State University’s grammarians to “give back” to lesser linguists -- to prevent “surge” from being used even one more time as a way of defining troop buildup instead of electrical overload. You might say it made English “organic.”
But that’s not really the way it all began.
According to Lake Superior State University’s Web site, the “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English” started as a publicity ploy for what was then Lake Superior State College. Marketing experts also came up with the idea to hold a “Snowman Burning” each spring, but that apparently didn’t catch on as well.
The banned words list doesn’t seem to be too effective either, noted the Associated Press writer who wrote about the list in a story published in newspapers Tuesday.
“Sadly for grammar’s guardians, the lighthearted list isn’t binding,” said the AP writer, “as evidenced by the continued use of past banned words and phrases, such as ‘erectile dysfunction,’ ‘i-anything’ and ‘awesome.’”
So, when it comes right down to it, I’m probably not doing you much of a service by identifying the words and demonstrating in this column how easily they can slip out in our speech and writing.
Take it for what it’s worth, I guess. The Lake Superior State people recommend with their list that I don’t say this, but, “it is what it is.”
That’s all 19. As a writer, I feel I need to wash my fingers after typing them.
Reach Repository Living Section Editor Gary Brown at (330) 580-8303 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org