Thursday, January 06, 2005

It's time to banish the Banished Word List

In the past, I've been a fan of Lake Superior State University's Banished Word List, which singles out the most misused, overused, and generally useless words in the language. No one hates the overuse of the word "diva" or the very existence of the word "fashionista" as much as I do, for instance, and in fact, I successfully got "killer app" on the list in 2002 (with one of my more clunky, cringe-inducing sentences, I must confess).

But this year's list just strikes me as an exercise in captious bitching. Most of the complaints just don't seem valid, which makes the submitters look simply whiny. Some lowlights of this year's unwarranted caviling:
BLUE STATES/RED STATES – Who’s who, anyway? “I remember when I was a kid and Georgia was purple,” says Peter Pietrangelo, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. “A good map has more than two colors.”
Colour me unimpressed with this submission. It's an oversimplification that doesn't take county-by-county breakdowns into consideration, but surely its been beaten into everyone by now that red states are Republican and blue states are Democratic. And yes, they still make maps in more than two colours, but that's a different kind of map. This particular map is meant to sort out how the country chose between the two major parties. If it had more than two colours, it would be confusing, and therefore a bad map. This guy is just being willfully ignorant.
BATTLEGROUND STATE – “During an election, every state is a battleground.” -- Austin White, West Hartford, Conn.
This is a common style of complaint in the Banished Word List: arguing that the term is somehow redundant. However, it's just not true in this case. During an election, every state is not a battleground. California, for instance, had absolutely no chance of going to the Republicans, and they pretty much conceded it without a fight. It wasn't a battleground. Ohio, on the other hand, could have gone either way, and the GOP and Dems battled until the bitter end. It was a battleground state.
CARBS – low carbs, high carbs, no carbs, carb-friendly… Meant ‘carburetor’ in a previous life. Needs to be purged from our system. “You’re not fat because you eat bread; you’re fat because you eat too much!” – Emily Price, Norfolk, Va.
Something tells me this lady isn't a dietician. It's just not true that overconsumption of carbs has no role in making you fat. And yeah, the Atkins fad got a little out of control, but there's nothing particularly wrong with the word "carb". It may have been tossed around a lot, but it's hardly annoying and it's a useful contraction for the much-longer "carbohydrate". And is it a crime to be a homograph? (Maybe in George W. Bush's America.) The apparent confusion caused by "carb" meaning both "carbohydrate" and "carburetor" isn't likely to cause anyone harm. If you're too stupid to tell the difference, why not cut auto parts right out of your diet too, just to be on the safe side?
ALL NEW – referring to television shows… “Of course it’s all new. Why can’t they just say ‘new’? There are no partially-new episodes, no repeat of last Tuesday’s episode with a slightly reworked Act 2.” – Greg Ellis, Bellevue, Wash.
Oh no? What about clip shows? They mostly consist of old material, certainly, but this is almost always linked together by some new material that establishes a theme and ties all the old clips together. Take, for example, the episode description for Simpsons episode 9F17, "So It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show": "Bart's April Fool prank sends Homer to the hospital, where incidents from his past explain his present physical state, and prompt family reminiscences after he goes into a coma." Sure, there were a lot of old clips of Homer bumping his head, but the bit where Bart used a paint mixer to shake up a can of Duff so that it would explode catastrophically when Homer opened it was a new bit. This episode wasn't all-new when it first aired, but it wasn't all-old either.
BLOG – and its variations, including blogger, blogged, blogging, blogosphere. Many who nominated it were unsure of the meaning. Sounds like something your mother would slap you for saying.
“Sounds like a Viking’s drink that’s better than grog, or a technique to kill a frog.” Teri Vaughn, Anaheim, Calif.
“Maybe it’s something that would be stuck in my toilet.” – Adrian Whittaker, Dundalk, Ontario.
“I think the words ‘journal’ and ‘diary’ need to come back.” – T. J. Allen, Shreveport, La.

I can't believe this one. It may not be the prettiest word, but it draws a useful distinction between online diaries and the traditional kind. When was the last time you found someone's blog under their pillow? Moreover, not all blogs serve as personal journals. Some serve as news sites or even online communities. But what's appalling is that many of the submitters nominated the word on the basis of their own ignorance. Because you don't know what it means, it should be banished? That's just not a valid reason.

Have we really run out of annoying aspects of the English language to complain about? (I'm not counting ending sentences with prepositions. I know I just did that, and I'll defend my right to do so.) Of course not, and I could certainly live without ever hearing some of the words on the 2005 Banished Words List ever again -- "wardrobe malfunction", "flip-flop", and "-izzle" speak come to mind. But nothing really warrants the banishing of most of the rest of the words and terms on this year's list, and the people who nominated them just come off as a bunch of petulant, oft-ignorant fussbudgets.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was going to suggest "Kerry," but then everybody suddenly stopped using it for some reason.

1/07/2005 12:35:00 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

"The apparent confusion caused by "carb" meaning both "carbohydrate" and "carburetor" isn't likely to cause anyone harm. If you're too stupid to tell the difference, why not cut auto parts right out of your diet too, just to be on the safe side?"

You got your wish, Pete. This one got a true LOL reaction.

1/07/2005 03:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The example you give to defend "All New" is awe-inducing and frightening. I never realized such an encyclopedical knowledge of Simpsons episodes was possible or even useful when defending the validity of TV show marketing terms. Impressive.. and scary.

- Arthur Langereis

1/07/2005 07:45:00 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

I, for one, am tired of people using the word fussbudgets. What are we, ACCOUNTANTS?!?

1/07/2005 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

Scott: Thanks. That bit was actually a subsequent edit to the original post that I only thought of after going to bed.

Arthur: I must have been channelling my old schoolmate Chris Turner, who displays his truly encyclopedic knowledge of the show in his just-released book, "Planet Simpson". Either that, or I looked it up on

Ian: I actually don't think I've ever heard the word "fussbudget" outside a Peanuts comic, where it was often used to describe Lucy.

1/07/2005 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I love auto parts! It's not fair!
- Matt

1/11/2005 09:24:00 AM  

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