Every year someone up at Lake Superior State University releases a list of banished words and phrases.
The write-up of the list's history makes it clear that the list is "tongue-in-cheek" and it was all part of "a publicity ploy" for the little school up north. I have no problem with the fact that the PR department puts out the list. They're just as entitled to silly ideas about language as anyone.
Do I have problems with the list? Well the language won't be any better if people 'obey' the ban. And it doesn't really give any good advice to improve writing -- other than the typical 'avoid clichés' advice. And there are some words and phrases on the list that have lost some of the "pop" (banned) they once had. And there are plenty of words and phrases that I'm less likely to use because they just aren't my style. I might think they're trendy or cutesy such as "webinar" or maybe I just don't know how to use a phrase like "it is what it is" meaningfully. But sometimes words start to pop in other directions and some new and clever terms start to work without the trendy baggage. You should hear what people used to say about that awful word, movie.
So why do the LSSU PR folks think they need to stop new words from entering common use? "Webinar" isn't there yet but it might make it. I resisted blog for a while because it seemed too 'nickname-y'. But the word has lost some of its hip tone (to my ear) and now I hear it as a pretty direct and clearly defined word. I guess after several years I can say about the word blog "it is what it is." See! language changes and so do its users. Yay! And if web seminars become a common enough forum they might just take the obvious sobriquet. Scott Lassiter grumbles "Yet another non-word trying to worm its way into the English language due to the Internet." Listen Scott: they all start off as non-words. Even Internet.
The peevologists' arguments are mostly as weak and old as we would expect. And there are occasional hints at language rage too -- "Banish it before I go vigilante" says the feisty Ben Martin from Adelaide, South Australia about the changing meaning of "random". Some more this year's proscriptions:
- PERFECT STORM – “Overused by the pundits on evening TV shows to mean just about any coincidence.” – Lynn Allen, Warren, Michigan.
The meaning as I have seen it used adds an important sense of the coincidence of several necessary factors to bring about a specific and rare result. It works quickly to a specific intention.
The technique is horrible. And I'd like to ban it from the sanctioned interrogation tactics. But what's wrong with the word? I just don't get this one. Do they simply want people to stop talking about the technique or do they want every speaker to have to go through a description of the repeated and sustained submersion of subjects instead of using the single well-known word?
- WORDSMITH/WORDSMITHING – “I’ve never read anything created by a wordsmith - or via wordsmithing - that was pleasant to read.” – Emily Kissane, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Yeah! And all those damned silversmiths and goldsmiths and gunsmiths and locksmiths that always ruin their work too. If only we'd stopped the word!
- AUTHOR/AUTHORED – “In one of former TV commentator Edwin Newman’s books, he wonders if it would be correct to say that someone ‘paintered’ a picture?” – Dorothy Betzweiser, Cincinnati, Ohio.
What's next? No one can pilot a plain or proctor an exam or police our use of language?
- SURGE – “‘Surge’ has become a reference to a military build-up. Give me the old days, when it referenced storms and electrical power.” – Michael F. Raczko, Swanton, Ohio.
“Do I even have to say it? I can’t be the first one to nominate it…put me in line. From Iraq to Wall Street to the weather forecast – ’surge’ really ought to recede.” – Mike Lara, Colorado.
“This word came out in the context of increasing the number of troops in Iraq. Can be used to explain the expansion of many things (I have a surge in my waist) and it’s use will grow out of control…The new Chevy Surge, just experience the roominess!” – Eric McMillan, Mentor, Ohio.
I don't understand if these people are against the widening or the narrowing or just the phonetics of the word. All silly peeves.
- BACK IN THE DAY – “Back in the day, we used ‘back-in-the-day’ to mean something really historical. Now you hear ridiculous statements such as ‘Back in the day, people used Blackberries without Blue Tooth.’” – Liz Jameson, Tallahassee, Florida.
Next year will feature the horrible misuse of "Oh yeah. That reminds me" when you mean to indicate that you just remembered something.
- RANDOM – Popular with teenagers in many places.
“Over-used and usually out of context, i.e. ‘You are so random!’ Really? Random is supposed to mean ‘by chance.’ So what I said was by chance, and not by choice?” – Gabriel Brandel, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
It's not "out of context" just because it's a context that you don't like. And do you also hate that odd was a numerical designation and it referred to a remainder but now it means 'strange' or 'weird'? And do you hate that 'weird' meant 'supernatural' or 'magical' and is it further frustrating that that adjective was the attributive use of the noun from OE wyrd meaning 'fate' or 'destiny'? You must hate this language.
- SWEET – “Youth lingo overuse, similar to ‘awesome.’ I became sick of this one immediately.” – Gordon Johnson, Minneapolis, Minnesota
The list is a little late on this one. Waye Braver of Manistique, Michigan claims that this "became popular with the advent of the television show ‘South Park’" but I remember it was already huge by 1983 when I moved from Maryland to Michigan. I picked up the use and when I went back to visit some friends in MD and I used 'sweet' meaning 'cool' or 'awesome' they all laughed at me. But they were 5th graders and such intolerance made sense from their limited little minds.
And how about this? A snowclone made the list. ‘BLANK’ is the new ‘BLANK’ or ‘X’ is the new ‘Y’ has been banned.
(hat tip to DL at Sycamore Review)