Banning words for the new year

Christopher Philippo toff at MAC.COM
Sun Jan 19 21:36:43 UTC 2014

Saying “ain’t” typically does not result in mothers fainting, fathers falling in a bucket of paint, sisters crying, brothers dying, and cats and dogs saying goodbye.  Possibly no other word has ever been claimed, however poetically, to have such calamitous consequences.  (When and where did that rhyme proscribing “ain’t”-saying originate and by what means did it spread, I wonder?  Is it a reminder that it’s considered improper by many or is it more of a protest against discouraging "ain’t” as ridiculous?)  Don’t say “twerk”: your mother, berserk, your father will drown in a lake full of murk….

On Jan 19, 2014, at 1:56 PM, Baron, Dennis E <debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU> wrote:
> the New Year’s resolution of this crowd is ban a new word every day

There seems to be far short of 365 words on that crowd’s 2014 list of banished (not banned) words.  A failed resolution, had they ever made it.

> nominations on the Banished Word List are so peppered with selfie and hashtag it seems that even the nominators themselves are reluctant to give up using the words they claim to hate. . . .

Best to credit that observation directly to the list: “Nearly all who nominated [hashtag] found a way to use it in their entries, so we wonder if they’re really willing to let go.”  It’s not uncommon for nominations to be accompanied by citations, so it’s perhaps a peculiar observation - and one which might be missing the tone likely intended in statements like “It’s #obnoxious #ridiculous #annoying and I wish it would disappear.”  The introduction to the list does something similar: “After much twerking and gnashing of hashtags […] let’s dispense with the selfies, come down from the twittersphere and T-bone this year’s banish-pocalypse on steroids.”  Presumably anyone actually trying to ban words would not then use all the words in that manner.

> Word bans require enforcement: a rule or law needs a penalty for violations and a way to catch offenders.  Just venting on a web page won’t do.

The “banished words list” isn’t trying to ban words.  They describe it, somewhat facetiously, as a “List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness” and call the words “pet peeves from everyday speech, as well as from the news, fields of education, technology, advertising, politics and more”.  It’s a sort of dictionary of clichés, buzzwords, etc. that are possibly worth avoiding for the reasons given, and it annually manages to get the media and the public thinking and talking about words and their usage a little more than they otherwise might.  (It’s too bad the option doesn’t exist for readers and viewers to replace sports sections and segments with language or other ones.)

They haven’t been successful at banning the words not just because there’s no enforcement but because it’s never been their intention and they have never tried.  They don’t appear to vent about offenders in between issuing the annual lists.  They don’t appear to take issue with those who object to the list or the inclusion of words on it by advancing arguments that some of the words are not being misused, or overused, or that they’re actually useful - I’d speculate that they might view that all as productive.

The site states: “LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe (RAY-bee) and some colleagues cooked up the whimsical idea to banish overused words and phrases from the language“ and “The tongue-in-cheek Banishment List began as a publicity ploy for little-known LSSU.”  They seem to have been fairly successful with the stated goal of garnering publicity, no?

> banning words because they’re English or German, or insulting, or new, or illogical, or slang, or merely silly, only makes people want to use them even more

Is that true of many people?  Racial slurs are overall, justly enough, de facto banned.  Newsreaders, politicians, and others are apt to avoid them and to get into significant trouble when they do use them - which does not seem to compel many to want to use the words more.  Perhaps all the hyperbole was humor that simply didn’t register with me, just as the list’s humor (and mine) doesn’t register with all here.

Chris Philippo

The American Dialect Society -

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