2009 Banished Words


I’ve blogged a few times about Lake Superior State University’s annual list of banished words before, and even had killer app thrown under the bus in 2002. (Whoops, my bad — under the bus was banished in 2008. Come to think of it, my bad was banished too, in 1998.) It’s such a good idea that my friend Elizabeth and I did a similar year-end wrap-up in the last two issues of her newsletter on marketing writing, which focuses specifically on banishing business buzzwords.

But I’ve got mixed feelings about the occasionally nitpicky, shrill tone of the LSSU list. Take that word I used up there — blog. That got banished in 2005 — mainly because many nominators didn’t know what it meant, which is their failing, not the words. A lot of words like blog get banished because someone finds it ugly or has a viscerally unpleasant reaction, just as some people can’t stand panties or moist. (Moist panties must be a doubly horrible thing for these people.) But this is a matter of personal idiosyncrasy. Personally, the feel of a piece of chalk sends an unpleasant shiver up my spine, but I wouldn’t suggest that this is a nails-on-the-chalkboard experience for everyone.

What I’m saying is that the LSSU folks are a bunch of complainers. That doesn’t mean they’re always wrong, though. Let’s go through this year’s list and see if they are or aren’t.

  • Green: This doesn’t bother me, though it tends to be used in a vague and fuzzy way, when I’d rather know what specific environmentally friendly measures are being taken. I agree that green is more annoying when used as a verb. Indiscriminate verbing can really obnoxious our language.
  • Carbon footprint or carbon offsetting: I suspect this was actually mostly nominated by conservatives who deny the existence of global warming. As with many banished words, it seems like it’s the concept they disagree with, not the word.
  • Maverick: Oh, definitely. The McCain campaign threw this around so much you’d have thought his running mate was Anthony “Goose” Edwards from Top Gun. Ironically, the term originally referred to cattle gone astray, so it should more appropriately have been applied to Republican voters than to their candidate.
  • First Dude: Now that we’re no longer in danger of seeing Todd Palin fixing his snowmobile on the White House lawn in the near future, we don’t need to worry about this one.
  • Bailout: I like SamuraiFrog‘s term: The Splurge. But bailout is actually pretty appropriate, given the number of companies with the gall to use taxpayer dollars to hand execs golden parachutes as the economy goes down in flames.
  • Wall Street/Main Street: The dumbest argument for banning comes from the nominator from Topeka, Kansas, who wails that there isn’t even a Main Street where he lives. Well, forget it, then — I guess the financial crisis doesn’t apply to Topeka, Kansas.
  • Monkey: Apparently, anything on the internet can be made better and funny by adding the word monkey to the end of it. I presume one example might be web designers taking the whimsical title of “web monkey”. I used to have a housemate who claimed the word monkey was inherently funny and would go into a paroxysm of fake giggles whenever it was mentioned, and that was annoying, but I can’t say I’ve been bothered by the above phenomenon, or even really noticed it.
  • <3: On the other hand, emoticons are pretty much inherently obnoxious. But LSSU already banished the ubiquitous hearts on bumper stickers in 1984, so banishing the online variant is redundant. I’d rather they had banished heart used as a verb (as in, “I *heart* the LSSU Banished Word List!”).
  • Icon or iconic: The complaint is that these words, which should apply strictly to pictorial images meant for religious worship and devotion, are grossly overused in entertainment news. There’s a simple solution to this, though: Stop reading and watching entertainment news. Celebrities who are famous merely for being famous are actually a lot like deities — without your worship and devotion, they cease to exist.
  • Game changer: This doesn’t bug me. I’d rather seethe related tipping point go. Malcolm Gladwell got rich mostly through a glib repackaging of a concept we already had in the phrases the last straw and the straw that broke the camel’s back, selling it like some kind of revolutionary new insight. I want to keep game changer around in the event that there’s a an action-movie remake of Reversal of Fortune with Jean-Claude Van Damme in the Jeremy Irons role. Game Changer would make a perfect title.
  • Staycation: Again, this doesn’t bug me. If I could banish one shudder-inducing portmanteau coined this year, it’d be bromance.
  • Desperate search: This is still useful. For instance, “Having banished hundreds of words and phrases since 1976 and exhausted most of the deserving candidates, LSSU is on a desperate search for genuinely annoying words and phrases to banish.”
  • Not so much: I could see the argument for banishing this one during the height of Mad About You‘s run in the early nineties, but Paul Reiser has hardly worked in the last decade. Unless you’re his wife, is this phrase really still irritating in the year 2008? Not so much.
  • Winner of five nominations: The argument seems to be that being nominated for an award is pretty small-time — it’s only an honour if you win. But considering that only five films may be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar per year, a nomination theoretically means that a film is one of the best five released in its year, which isn’t too shabby. It does seem like strange terminology to speak of “winning” a nomination, but then, it’s not like every film gets one. (Of course, Oscar nominations and wins are more the result of politicking than actual quality, but that’s beside the point.)
  • It’s that time of year again: Fine. This can go. Just don’t let me catch LSSU using it in the introduction to next year’s list.

One Response to “2009 Banished Words”

  1. 1 vklsr

    actually my money would be on lefties putting up carbon offsetting. some of them feel they’re a mechanism that enslaves third world countries and some of them think theyre a scam absolving bono and gore of any guilt over the lack of change in their jetsetting activism

    this second is also a line my ultraconservative stepfather likes to trot out except he sees no need for guilt but harps on their hypocrisy instead

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