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Banish those words! Futility, thy name be the Academy

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Lake Superior State University, no doubt a bastion of globally recognized academics shaping the very future of the English language, has issued its 39th annual List of Banished Words, a collection of words chosen by certain of the school's enlightened, highly reputable experts in such matters from nominations sent in by concerned, everyday people, themselves unquestionably enlightened and reputable, at least when it comes to the preservation of the fragile, defenseless—indeed, on the veritable brink of extinction—English language.

The List of Banished Words for 2013 has the following entries:

  • selfie: a picture of one’s self, usually taken with a mobile phone camera pointed at a mirror
  • twerk/twerking: a dance or the act of dancing in such a way as to squat and jerk the pelvic region forward and backward to simulate female-superior coitus
  • hashtag: a word or word group preceded by the “#” symbol with the intent of flagging for online searches the surrounding text as related to a specific subject
  • twittersphere: the community of users and their content that is posted on the microblogging service called Twitter
  • mister mom: a male in a two-person household who is unemployed and therefore serves as the primary caregiver for the children of the family
  • T-bone: a car crash in which one of the vehicles ends up perpendicular to the ground
  • on steroids: a person or act that shows extraordinary or excessive vigor, strength, or purpose
  • —ageddon: a suffix borrowed from Armageddon, used to describe an end-time scenario
  • —pocalypse: a suffix borrowed from apocalypse, used to describe a really bad end-time scenario
  • intellectually/morally bankrupt: a person or situation bereft of intelligence/decency in actions or process
  • Obamacare: a synonym for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
  • adversity: a difficult situation, specifically in sports
  • fan base: a group of people who favor, follow, show loyalty to, or otherwise like someone or something of note

In the interest of full disclosure, I freely and proudly stipulate that I am an unapologetic Grammar Nazi, a person who loathes misspellings, inappropriate punctuation, bad grammar, and other literary abominations showing evidence of carelessness, stupidity, and generally licentious attitudes. That having been set forth, the minor minions mumbling momentously about unacceptable new words just bunch my boxers. Word inventions, borrowings, hybridizations, and reassignments are wonderful, if occasionally annoying, aspects of the growth, evolution, and strength of languages.

Braying from the hollow halls of the academy that some new words must be removed is hubris on stilts: language users—as opposed to Language Overlords—will press sounds, words, word fragments, and even an occasional belch, into the service of expressing ideas as they see fit, and efforts by those Overlords to silence the users will result in much deserved rejoinders like "Bite me," "Go suck an egg," "So’s yer momma," and other, perhaps less civil, expressive inventions.

New words are always arriving; some stay, some depart. If a word remains, that’s probably because it serves an enduring purpose; if it goes away, its purpose was transitory. What one group hopes will happen to the word has little to do with this process (even in France, where there’s a government agency that tries to enforce bans on words that are too English).

Many of us might hope that car accidents in which vehicles “T-bone” will one day be a thing of the past, but as long as driver’s licenses are issued to people of less than stellar driving skills, cars will occasionally end up perpendicular to the ground.

Quite a few people, particularly those of real or feigned high morals, certainly hope that females from the age of maybe four to their mid-20s will stop “twerking” (go to YouTube to see just how popular this dance is across a wide spectrum of ages), but as long as girls doing the dance make boys stare as if they’d just been lobotomized, twerking will be done, and it will be done with vigor and full knowledge of what the dance represents.

As long as we remain as a species on this good earth, we will have people who are “intellectually and/or morally bankrupt,” although we may, in the future as we have in the past, change the terms by which we summarily describe them. I, for one, liked the word “scoundrel” and also favored “low-life,” but times change and words such as those did lose some of their punch over the years. Besides, saying, for example, "The National Security Agency is morally bankrupt" sounds more civil than declaring, "The NSA is a nest of scumbags." That elevation of the conversation might make the difference between prompting those morally bankrupt folks to add to their dossier on you and goading the scumbags to drone-strike your dinner party.

Most people like attention and, whether or not they admit it, want others to see them, praise their looks, and comment to the effect. “Selfies” serve the purpose of giving others the opportunity to see us and say, “Oh, you’re cute” or “My, but you’re a handsomely rugged beefcake” (note, here, your opportunity to comment to that effect on the selfie for my profile picture here at

The rest of the words on that list could be similarly explained and defended, but the overall point is this: a word exists because it's needed, and it won’t fade into obscurity or colloquialism unless the practical need for it goes away or until a more accurate, popular, or interesting alternative becomes available.

As for Lake Superior State University and its List of Banished Words, the lesson is obvious and the message is clear: STFU.



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