Banish The Banished Words List

I fear that by the end of this blog, people are going to be condemning me as a curmudgeon with no sense of humour. Ah well.

Lake Superior State University has been receiving global coverage for its annual list of words which should be banished, a list which it has been issuing for close on four decades. It contains a dozen words which it says should immediately be sent packing from the English language.

Now on Wordability, I have certainly commented that I dislike certain new words and phrases, and hoped that they don’t catch on. But once they do cement their place in the language, well that’s just linguistic life. And just because you don’t like them, there is nothing you can do about it. Thankfully, English is not a language where membership is decided by fusty academics behind closed doors, and I find myself slightly aggravated by the idea of banishing words, even though it is clearly tongue in cheek. I assume, anyway.

Fiscal Cliff tops the new list. But it is typical of all of the words on the list. It came into being because it needed to, because it fulfilled a linguistic gap that was demanding to be filled, so to banish it is to banish the concept itself or to ignore the need to find a way of talking about it. Spoiler Alert is an equally useful linguistic shorthand, YOLO has become a vital tool of social communication, and Trending is the perfect descriptor of what is happening on social networks, despite my wife telling me it is not a word whenever I use it.

Frankly, all these words need to exist. Do some of them offend my ears? Yes. Should we therefore get rid of them, just because they irritate us? Of course not. And I do find it slightly rich of Lake Superior University to run its results on the same page as its slogan, ‘Redefining The Classroom’, which is a phrase which sounds much worthier of banishment than any of those I have previously mentioned.

One final note – I would imagine that the American Dialect Society believes these words should not be banished either, as many of them made it to the shortlist for its word of 2012. But in the end Fiscal Cliff and Yolo, to name but two, lost out to hashtag.

I’m slightly surprised by the result – for me, hashtag has been well established for some time and was already entrenched before last year. But that’s just my view. What is clear is that it is a modern word which is necessary. So expect to see it on a list of words which should be banished any moment now.

Don’t Fall Over The Fiscal Cliff

There is a late entrant in the word of the year stakes. More likely, there is a front-runner for the 2013 crown. It is becoming hard to avoid the Fiscal Cliff.

The Fiscal Cliff is a term that has been coined to describe a looming financial precipice in the United States. It is a confluence of coming togethers of the end of certain tax laws and a decrease in Government spending, and commentators are worried about the effect on the US economy if legislation is not passed which could prevent all of this from happening.

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, is being credited with coining the phrase, having used it in evidence to the House Financial Services Commission at the end of February. He actually isn’t the first, as it appeared in analysis of George Bush’s tax cuts two years after the end of his presidency. But there is no doubt that Mr Bernanke’s usage put the term on the linguistic map.

That said, it is only in the last few weeks that it has found its way into general conversation and started appearing in earnest across the media. Given that the fiscal cliff is just around the corner, that is not really a surprise.

Maybe what is a surprise is that the term has simply been accepted and is being used by everybody, probably without really understanding it. I feel the same way about it as I did about haircut entering the vernacular last year – a term that was popular among economic commentators crossed over into the mainstream and using it seemed to confer some kind of special, inside knowledge on the users, it is almost said with a nod and a wink to those also on the inside.

For the rest of us, we hear it and then have to go and look it up and try and understand it. Shorthand phrases are good for encapsulating stories and letting everybody know what the subject is, but when they are used regularly in conversation as if everybody knows what they mean, then that can become annoying.

Thank goodness the Simpsons have been around to help explain it.