Sunday, January 24, 2010

Michigan's Word Banishment Committe strikes again

Each year, Michigan’s Lake Superior State University releases a list of words it categorizes for General Uselessness, Overuse or Mis-use. In this year’s annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English, The Word Banishment Committee narrowed down the thousands of nominated words and phrases to these: tweet, shovel-ready, transparent/transparency, czar, app, sexting, teachable moment, friend (as a verb), in these economic times, stimulus, toxic assets, chillaxin’, bromance, and any word combining the President’s last name, such as Obamanomics, Obamanation… you get the idea.
I’ve never been a fan of buzzwords, so have no problem with never hearing some of the above terms again. However, I’m against censorship in general, and as a writer, I hate to lose any words that might prove useful. It’s like taking tools away from a craftsperson, and words are critical tools for communication, the basis of human understanding.
Obviously, authors should weigh each word for its usefulness. Jargon with short shelf lives can quickly date a story - for good or bad, depending whether it’s intentional. If an author needs to immerse a reader in a specific time period, certain words can immediately conjure the era. Likewise, use of certain phrases can enhance a character by making that character’s speech identifiable to the reader without tags.
Dumbing down language has never made sense to me. We want to educate our youth – and our population in general. Why corrode their understanding by removing relevant words and phrases? An obscure word used in the right context is immediately understandable to the reader, and enhances vocabulary. Writers sometimes take flack for using “million dollar words” but I, for one, prefer meticulously crafted work. Prefer Michael Chabon to say, Elmore Leonard. Yes, Elmore writes a good story. But his writing is blah. It leaves me cold. Certain other authors whose novels have gone on to film write so poorly, I can’t get through the entire book. Yes, I’m picky, but I aspire to write as well as the authors I admire: Margaret Atwood. Charles D’Ambrosio (his writing is ambrosia to me!). Richard Russo. I could go on, but you get the idea.
As the AP explained, the list is by no means official, and the committee itself says it’s all in good fun. Many previously-banned words or phrases still appear in current conversations – also for good or bad, but it’s for the individual to decide. I’ve been known to repeat phrases such as it is what it is. 24/7, happy camper, LOL, and back in the day, not so much (though this phrase made the list last year). Curious about other words the committee has banned over the past 35 years? The complete list is here.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Cate. I couldn't agree with you more about all you said. I understand the list isn't official but I do worry about the intentions of the committee when so many of the words seem to have a certain, shall we say, slant? Perhaps I'm being overly dramatic but I hardly view such a practice as "good fun" when it seems to limit slang bent on depicting certain view points.

As to the rest- I concur. I tend to read works by authors whose prose I admire.

Thanks for this post.

Cate Masters said...

I suppose it's the fact they're with a university that bothers me. We all know what fun those academic types can be, but sometimes others can misinterpret things. Some phrases do tend to get old after awhile, but I frown on any sort of censorship!

Alice Audrey said...

I agree, too, Cate. I haven't heard of several of those buzz words, but I think it's stupid of anyone to try and take them away. Frankly, I think it makes the professors look stupid to set themselves up as the arbiters of the language. If we really don't need the words, they will fade away on their own.

Cate Masters said...

Too true, Audrey. Invented words will disappear on their own once the buzz fades.

Chiron said...

Crazy and difficult to comprehend when a group decides they're in charge of language. Even though it's 'all in good fun'. Though I have to admit there's a definite laziness attached to utilizing too many buzz-words.

A long-ago friend I played music abhorred the use of slang or profanity. He believed people should speak without relying on verbal crutches. *laughed* I was nineteen at the time so it truly was an eye-opening experience. Makes me think too of the admiration many Americans have for those from England who seem to speak so properly (though of course, THEIR buzzwords are less familiar!!).

That being said...

OMG! Thanks for the heads-up! LOL. What a buzzkill! All those words thrown under the bus. Not even wordsmith-worthy! Oh, well.

It Is What It Is. ROTFLMAO!

*heh-heh* :-P

The Write Soul:

Cate Masters said...

Chiron! So good to see you. :)
I wonder if some people try to increase their "cool" factor by using buzz words. In fact, that's part of my novel The Bridge Between, which I just contracted. Yay!
I agree about profanity, it actually dilutes the power of the message.
As a silly exercise, I tried to put together as many of the banned words and phrases as I could, but even I didn't want to read it when I was done. Ha!