Thursday, January 6, 2011

Who Gets to Chose Banned Words?

So Lake Superior State University (LSSU) published its annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

I’m not sure where they get off thinking they’re the arbiters of my clich├ęs. I think it must have come in one of those moments when someone declares himself an expert, and before you know it, folks begin going to him for insights they could probably glean themselves.

In fact, LSSU's list began in1976 in just that way. Their former Public Relations Director Bill Rabe and a group of his friends each contributed a few expressions that they disliked to form the first list. After that, the nominations stacked up for future lists and Rabe's group didn't have to make up its own list again.

Here’s the way it works: Some clever person somewhere turns a unique phrase, say. “Think outside the box.” Then, the rest of us lazy folk pick it up and wear it out, thereby irritating the “experts” at LSSU. They put it on the list, and tell us to stop pretending it’s still clever and unique.

Or, we, the non-expert masses, start groaning when we hear the phrase due to its unfortunate association with something or someone unpleasant, or lacking credibility. Then, it doesn’t go viral (another banished word this year), but rather shrivels in infamy.

Speaking of which, I noticed several Palin-isms made the list. One contributor said of "refudiate," “Adding this word to the English language simply because a part-time politician lacks a spell checker on her cell phone is an action that needs to be repudiated.” Here, here!

LSSU also panned “mamma grizzlies” and “man up”; two other phrases linked with Palin. I wonder if this is a whiff of her part-time future.

So anyway, according to LSSU, we should stop saying, “I’m just sayin’.” It’s just that I don’t wanna give that one up yet…just sayin’. It’s kind of fun and funny. It’s like a fuzzy kitten on the curb on the corner. I found it. I’m keeping it. I promise to feed it and it can sleep in my room. I know it won’t be so cute when it matures into a fully fledged expression, probably something like, “I’m telling you!” But I will deal with that when the time comes.

Of course the internet has accelerated the tipping point. A person gets quoted and becomes an authority if the web, the press, and the masses say so. A word achieves national, truly world-wide status in moments. Think “junk.”

In that vein, the LSSU list pans “Google” as a verb. Now that’s just plain snooty. Why isn’t it okay to add this to our lexicon when it so clearly and aptly conveys exactly what we’re doing? The alternative would be wordier and no more explicit. If they have their way, we won’t be saying, “I googled your address.” But, “I looked your address up with my internet search engine.”

I think I’ll make a couple of nominations this year. First, I think we should stop saying, “is, is.” For example when asked, “What is a tiddly-wink?” it has become common for a person to answer, “What it is, is a disk that is flipped in a goofy game…” (What is a tiddly-wink, anyway? Bad example, but hang with me.)

The point is that saying “is, is” annoys me. (I think I’m using the same criteria they use in Michigan.) Better to respond by not starting your answer with “What,” but rather with the item in question, “A tiddly-wink is a disk…” and then you look it up and complete your more pleasingly appropriate sentence. Thank you.

In 2002, the folks at LSSU put “9-11” and all its variations on the banned list, but the phrase lives on, in spite.

I agree with the nominators from 2002 who said, “Do we refer to the Chicago Fire as 10-8 because it occurred on Oct. 8, 1871? How about the sinking of the Titanic - it is not called 4-14. People are abbreviating the worst act of war this country has seen since Pearl Harbor. I've never heard anybody refer to the attack on Pearl Harbor as 12-7.

“A tragic event of such proportion should not be confused with a telephone number. The name will be remembered as long as there are people who can read."

It was September 11th, 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center.

Out of reverence and respect, I think we can take the time to speak the words.

I’m just sayin’.