They banish ye, accursed words! (2013’s exiles)

After the recent thorough post covering all those WOTY winners, today’s post might seem like a let-down: it only briefly discusses words from a single source.

You might already be familiar with LSSU’s “Banished Words List.” As with the various WOTY lists, it’s really just a publicity stunt that usually gets a bit of media attention; unlike the various WOTY lists, LSSU tends to play it for laughs, and they openly admit that it’s a publicity stunt.

Let’s take a quick look at what they “banished” this year.

Well, frankly, I’d rather not. The LSSU list used to be more fun. It used to be nicely tongue-in-cheek, with words collected from all across the language that seemed to have been ripped from the headlines (banished: 2004), gave you a warm fuzzy feeling (banished: 1995) or just plain jumped the shark (surprisingly, never banished).

They were sometimes amusing simply for their terseness (oxymoron of the year, 1988: Political Science, with no other commentary given). The list was something of a win-win (banished: 1993).

From very early on (its second year?) the list was open to all suggestions, but was culled down to a shorter final list by its managers. Even in the early years, there was a clear bias against vernacular slang, and some of the early lists protested too much about perennial misuses (impact, 1990; near-miss, 1985), mispronunciations (acrost and ekspecially, 1988), and simple grammar or spelling errors (that for who, 1993; your for you’re, 1988).

Still, some nominations could be quite funny (especially some of the oxymorons, like female brethren, 1992, or forced relaxation, 1989)

Quite a few proved to be almost willfully…what’s the opposite of prescient? Because that’s what they were. It would be as if you were handed a linguistic crystal ball and, with the future utility of a word or phrase staring you in the face, you instead refused to look. Would “curmudgeonly” apply? That doesn’t seem strong enough. Granted, words like “ink pen” (1989), “networking” (1988) , “out-sourcing” (1997), and “multi-tasking” (1997) might not have seemed as useful when banished as they eventually proved to be, but they filled their niches well (and in most cases fill them even better as time passes).

Submitters also have had an ongoing problem with nouns becoming verbs (medaled, 1995) or verbs being used in different senses (grow, 1996).

Sometimes they just seem tired of words that others have adopted and made extensive use of: while most everyone else selected “occupy” as 2011’s word of the year, LSSU was busy banishing it for 2012. Other times, they swim against the tide of language change and colloquial usage (politically correct, 1994; proactive, 1991 and 1993; road rage, 2007).

But the lists have still been fun over the years. Reviewing them reminds me that they’ve hit a few of my own pet-peeves over the years, including some issues I’ve covered (or will eventually cover) here.

Anyway, I’ve equivocated long enough. Here’s the full LSSU list for 2013 (note that the link is relative, so the URL might blow up in about 10 months). This year’s list is entirely boring, shows no inspiration, virtually no humor, and doesn’t even manage to include any words that have truly reached any kind of ‘banishment’ level. Sure, “fiscal cliff,” “double down,” and “job creators” are annoying and over used, but they’ve filled useful roles this past year (even if they might be deserving of ridicule and could well be unlamented if they faded away).  The words on the list, with two exceptions, aren’t even very interesting.

The exceptions are “YOLO” and “trending.” YOLO is interesting because it also was on more than one WOTY list. This kind of thing happens fairly often: a WOTY list picks up on a new word or usage and highlights it, while the complainers who submit to the banished list pick up on the same trend but gripe about it. If folks like that had their way with the language, we’d still be grunting. I suspect some of them are the sort of people who would go into cognitive fits if they ever tried to trace the etymology of a word like “graphic” and how it came to have its current meaning.

Trending” is interesting because once again they’ve missed a word that has sprung up to fill an obvious need. It’s got a whiff of faddish trendiness about it, but the truth is that it’s actually quite useful, especially in its common context of describing how some idea or event is playing out in real time in social media. I challenge you to offer a substitute that does the job as well.

While I bash the LSSU list — it’s so easy — I’m glad they compile it. At the very least, it offers an outlet to the submitters: they don’t have to hold back their irrational irritation at living usage until they burst. It also gives the rest of us something to talk about, and maybe even to feel a little superior about. We might have our creative differences (banished: 1991), but the end result (also banished: 1991) is world class (1982 & 1993) entertainment…at least by some standards.

Let’s not throw them under the bus (2008) just yet. Being a language curmudgeon is, after all, a victimless crime (1993).

= = = = =

Boldly going where it’s foolish to go, I’ll end this post with a prediction. Following their pattern of despising new usages coined and extensively used by a particular subculture, the submitters to the banished list will soon find great fault with the word “maker,” as in a techie do-it-yourselfer. I’ll bet that they tsk-tsk it onto the 2014 list, or 2015 at the latest. Making this kind of prediction is absurd, but hey, YOLO!

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About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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