3 wise monkeys,Toshogu shrine, Nikko, Japan (Photo/David Monniaux)
Writing a novel, a memoir, an expose? There are a few – well okay 15 – words and phrases the good folks at Lake Superior State University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula would like you not to use.
In fact, they would prefer you not even speak them in casual conversation, not to mention in your next lecture or Sunday morning news op. What are these words? No, they are not related to the late George Carlin’s seven dirty words (that can’t be said on television).
Rather, the LSSU list of banished words are those that have crept – or sometimes jammed themselves – into the lexicon, and the word “czars” at the University are tired of hearing them. According the LSSU website, this year’s words were “unfriended” for mis-use, over-use, and general uselessness.
Here are the words:
- friend (as a verb)
- teachable moment
- in these economic times
- toxic assets
- too big to fail
- Obama(as a prefix or root)
It turns out the Word Banishment team has been working to purge “the Queen’s English” for some time. The original list was created in 1975 by former LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe at a New Year’s eve party, and the first list was published New Year’s Day. In the 35 years since, LSSU has received tens of thousands of nominations for the list.
The list has become famous enough to get a mention in TIME magazine. But the question must be raised, why are some people banishing words when others are working hard to preserve them?
The team at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) have been working since 1965 to collect and preserve words from across the U.S. DARE’s chief editor, Joan Houston Hall, is very well aware of the LSSU banished words list and had this to say:
The LSSU list always gets a lot of hype, and people have fun being
indignant about overused words. But try as these folks will to
"civilize" it, our language will retain the words that prove useful and
leave behind those that lose their utility. It's interesting that
"tweet," which is disparaged by the LSSU folks, was voted "Word of the
Year" for 2009 by the American Dialect Society at its recent meeting in
The American Dialect Society also recently chose “Google” as their word of the decade, according to The Washington Post.
To preserve or to banish? “In these economic times” either choice could function as a “toxic asset.” The DARE group has published several large volumes of their preserved words, a “shovel-ready” project that is just “to big to fail.”
But when a word is banished, does it really go away? You decide. Here is the original list, published New Year’s Day 1976: at this point in time, meaningful, input, scenario, détente, dialogue, macho, implement and viable (as in "that is not a viable alternative which we can implement."), call for resignation (apparently in reference to sports reporters).