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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, January 1st, 2021

Banished Words for 2021

Every year since 1976, Michigan’s Lake Supe­ri­or State Uni­ver­si­ty has released a thought­ful and humor­ous “List of Words Ban­ished from the Queen’s Eng­lish for Mis­use, Overuse and Gen­er­al Use­less­ness”. Here is the 2021 (and forty-sixth annu­al) edi­tion, for your read­ing enjoy­ment on this New Year’s Day:

Enough already with COVID-19!

Peo­ple across the U.S. and around the world let Lake Supe­ri­or State Uni­ver­si­ty know that they’re tired not only of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic but also of hear­ing, read­ing, and talk­ing about it—especially when the com­mu­ni­ca­tion is bad or excessive.

COVID-19 ter­mi­nol­o­gy monop­o­lized sub­mis­sions for LSSU’s annu­al Ban­ished Words List this year.

Out of 1,450-plus nom­i­na­tions, upwards of 250 of the words and terms sug­gest­ed for ban­ish­ment for overuse, mis­use, or use­less­ness relate to the coro­n­avirus. In fact, sev­en of the 10 words and terms that LSSU is ban­ish­ing for 2021 are about it. Ranked No. 1 to get rid of is what start­ed of all this: “COVID-19” itself.

“It should sur­prise no one that this year’s list was dom­i­nat­ed by words and terms relat­ed to COVID-19,” said Ban­ished Words List com­mit­tee mem­bers Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish Mary McMyne, Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish Julie Bar­bour, and Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish Dr. Chad Bar­bour. “LSSU’s Ban­ished Words List has reflect­ed signs of the times since debut­ing in the mid-1970s, and the zeit­geist this year is: We’re all in this togeth­er by ban­ish­ing expres­sions like ‘We’re all in this togeth­er.’ To be sure, COVID-19 is unprece­dent­ed in wreak­ing hav­oc and destroy­ing lives. But so is the over­re­liance on ‘unprece­dent­ed’ to frame things, so it has to go, too.”

LSSU has com­piled an annu­al Ban­ished Words List since 1976 to uphold, pro­tect, and sup­port excel­lence in lan­guage by encour­ag­ing avoid­ance of words and terms that are over­worked, redun­dant, oxy­moron­ic, clichéd, illog­i­cal, non­sen­si­cal — and oth­er­wise inef­fec­tive, baf­fling, or irri­tat­ing. Over the decades, LSSU has received tens of thou­sands of nom­i­na­tions for the list, which now totals more than 1,000 entries.

This year, nom­i­na­tions came from most major U.S. cities and many U.S. states, as well as from Aus­tralia, the Czech Repub­lic, Eng­land, and Cana­da. Here are the list of the ban­ished words and terms for 2021 and the rea­sons for their banishment:

#1: COVID-19 (COVID, CORONAVIRUS, RONA) — A large num­ber of nom­i­na­tors are clear­ly resent­ful of the virus and how it has over­tak­en our vocab­u­lary. No mat­ter how nec­es­sary or social­ly and med­ical­ly use­ful these words are, the com­mit­tee can­not help but wish we could ban­ish them along with the virus itself. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, this list arrives as does a vac­cine — the com­mit­tee hopes this proves a type of dou­ble whammy.

#2: SOCIAL DISTANCING — This phrase is use­ful, as wear­ing a mask and keep­ing your dis­tance have a mas­sive effect on pre­vent­ing the spread of infec­tion. But we’d be lying if we said we weren’t ready for this phrase to become “use­less.” With north of fifty nom­i­na­tions, many oth­ers clear­ly feel the same, and the tone of their rea­son­ing ranged from impa­tient to heartfelt.

#3: WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER — This phrase was like­ly intend­ed as a way to keep every­one feel­ing safe and calm at the start of the pan­dem­ic. How­ev­er, as the virus made its way across the globe and nation, it became clear that we are all deal­ing with COVID-19 in dif­fer­ent ways and that we con­front some vast­ly dif­fer­ent chal­lenges in cop­ing with it. As with many words that show up on the list, its use­ful­ness has faded.

#4: IN AN ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION (VARIOUS PHRASINGS) — Yes, human­i­ty needs to fol­low safe­guards dur­ing COVID-19. The sta­tis­tics are sober­ing: more than 342,000 deaths and more than 19 mil­lion con­firmed cas­es in the U.S. and more than 1.8 mil­lion deaths and more than 82 mil­lion con­firmed cas­es world­wide. But the phras­ing about how to take pre­ven­ta­tive steps is vague. What is the stan­dard mea­sure­ment for cau­tion, met­ric or U.S. standard?

#5: IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES (VARIOUS PHRASINGS) — The com­mit­tee agrees that COVID-19 has upend­ed every­day life and wish­es this weren’t so. But putting things into impre­cise con­text doesn’t help mat­ters. The blur dilutes real­i­ty and, to some, sounds like the begin­ning of a movie trail­er. Keep as wide a berth of trite par­lance as those who don’t wear masks in pub­lic. What exact­ly does it mean for times to be uncer­tain? Look at a clock!

#6: PIVOT — Reporters, com­men­ta­tors, talk­ing heads, and oth­ers from the media ref­er­ence how every­one must adapt to the coro­n­avirus through con­tact­less deliv­ery, vir­tu­al learn­ing, curb­side pick­up, video con­fer­enc­ing, remote work­ing, and oth­er urgent read­just­ments. That’s all true and vital. But bas­ket­ball play­ers piv­ot; let’s keep it that way.

#7: UNPRECEDENTED [RE-BANISHMENT] — It’s unheard of that a word would be repeat­ed on the Ban­ished Words List. Actu­al­ly, it’s not. In the ear­ly years, words wound up repeat­ed, although we try to avoid rep­e­ti­tion nowa­days. Despite the fact that “unprece­dent­ed” was ban­ished in 2002, giv­en that it was nom­i­nat­ed many times this year for mis­use in describ­ing events that do have prece­dent, inclu­sion again seems warranted.

2021 Ban­ished Words and Terms Not About COVID-19:

#8: KAREN — What began as an anti-racist cri­tique of the behav­ior of white women in response to Black and Brown peo­ple has become a misog­y­nist umbrel­la term for cri­tiquing the per­ceived over­e­mo­tion­al behav­ior of women. As one nom­i­na­tor said about rea­sons for its ban­ish­ment, “I would tell you why, but I’d sound like a Karen.” Anoth­er crit­ic observed, “Offen­sive to all nor­mal peo­ple named Karen.”

#9: SUS — It’s a short­ened ver­sion for “sus­pi­cious” in the video game Among Us. No com­mit­tee mem­bers play, but our chil­dren who do explained that this mul­ti­play­er online social game is designed around iden­ti­fy­ing “sus” imposters so they can be “thrown into the lava.” Com­plain­ers a) ask: How much effort does it take to say the entire word; and b) request: If that can’t hap­pen, con­fine the syl­la­ble to the gam­ing world.

#10: I KNOW, RIGHT? — An amus­ing phrase flood­ing social media, “I know, right?” is a rel­a­tive­ly new con­struc­tion to con­vey empa­thy with those who have expressed agree­ment. But as one word­smith put it, if you know, why do you need to ask if it’s cor­rect or seek fur­ther approval? Anoth­er gram­mar­i­an sug­gest­ed that the desire for con­fir­ma­tion con­notes inse­cu­ri­ty. In oth­er words, it’s reit­er­at­ing some­thing already seconded.

“Real-world con­cerns pre­oc­cu­pied word watch­dogs this year, first and fore­most COVID-19, and that makes sense,” said LSSU Pres­i­dent Dr. Rod­ney S. Han­ley. “In a small way, maybe this list will help ‘flat­ten the curve,’ which also was under con­sid­er­a­tion for ban­ish­ment. We trust that your ‘new normal’—another con­tender among nominations—for next year won’t have to include that anymore. ”

Lists for pre­vi­ous years are avail­able on Lake Superior’s site.

We’re very glad to see piv­ot and social dis­tanc­ing on the list. We don’t say social dis­tanc­ing at NPI, as we believe in phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing, not social distancing. 

We dis­agree that COVID-19 and coro­n­avirus should be ban­ished. We need a way to refer to the dis­ease, not just the virus that caus­es it (SARS CoV‑2) and the oth­er names that have been pro­posed for the dis­ease are extreme­ly prob­lem­at­ic or out­right racist. It is for this very rea­son that LSSU’s own 2021 list goes on to repeat “COVID-19” sev­er­al times after its ban­ish­ment entry.

COVID-19 is not a mis­used or use­less word, and not overused either giv­en the pan­dem­ic. There­fore, it and “coro­n­avirus” are not wor­thy of banishment.

(We can get behind ban­ish­ing “Rona”, though!)

It’s cer­tain­ly okay to be unhap­py that those words have entered the com­mon ver­nac­u­lar. The pan­dem­ic sucks, and we’d all like it to be over. But we’re not going to get out of it by wish­ing the dis­ease away. We get rid of COVID-19 by con­fronting it. By wear­ing masks. By prac­tic­ing phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing. And by get­ting vac­ci­nat­ed when the vac­cine becomes avail­able to each of us.

We’d add to this year’s list by adding sev­er­al more obnox­ious phras­es that we’d like to see ban­ished for overuse, mis­use and gen­er­al uselessness:

CANCEL CULTURE — This phrase has been embraced by right wing pun­dits and Repub­li­can can­di­dates or elect­ed offi­cials who resent being held account­able for say­ing offen­sive or racist things, but curi­ous­ly have no prob­lem call­ing out behav­ior or speech that they dis­agree with that comes from their polit­i­cal oppo­nents on the left. The term refers to the idea of “with­draw­ing sup­port for (can­cel­ing) pub­lic fig­ures and com­pa­nies after they have done or said some­thing con­sid­ered objec­tion­able or offen­sive,” accord­ing to Dictionary.com. How­ev­er, the point of adver­tis­er boy­cotts and sim­i­lar tac­tics by pro­gres­sive activists is not to get rid of free­dom of speech, but rather to impose con­se­quences for peo­ple who insist on utter­ing hate speech. The right wing’s notion of “can­cel cul­ture” is thus a misnomer.

SELF-MADE BILLIONAIRE — NPI staff heard this phrase used by CNN’s Brooke Bald­win back in 2020 when she was intro­duc­ing a guest. But there is sim­ply no such thing as a “self-made bil­lion­aire”; it’s a total fic­tion. As Eliz­a­beth War­ren and oth­ers have point­ed out, nobody makes it on their own in Amer­i­ca. Every per­son who suc­ceeds in busi­ness makes use of the infra­struc­ture the tax­pay­ers paid for to accu­mu­late their wealth, whether that’s the Inter­net or the inter­state high­way sys­tem or pub­lic air­ports and seaports.

ALL OPTIONS ARE ON THE TABLE — Fre­quent­ly uttered by gov­er­nors or may­ors in response to ques­tions like “What are you going to do about the rapid spread of COVID-19?” or “What are you going to do in response to the protests over the mur­ders of George Floyd, Bre­on­na Tay­lor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more like them?” We would rather hear elect­ed offi­cials admit to being unsure what they’re going to do, or need to think about the prop­er path for­ward, rather than eva­sive­ly claim that “all options are on the table” when in fact that’s not the case.

HUMANING — This atroc­i­ty was cre­at­ed by cor­po­rate mar­keters on the pay­roll of Mon­delez Inter­na­tion­al. “It set off a social-media back­lash when it entered the lex­i­con this month, short­ly after Mon­delez declared that the word cap­tured its approach to mar­ket­ing snack foods around the world,” the New York Times’ Tiffany Hsu and Sap­na Mahesh­wari report­ed last month. And right­ly so: we sim­ply don’t need this pho­ny word in our vocab­u­lary. We’re sub­ject­ed to enough cor­po­rate mum­bo jum­bo as it is, from “syn­er­gy” to “bench­mark­ing” to “par­a­digm shift” to “lead indi­ca­tors”. The afore­men­tioned New York Times arti­cle also lists many oth­er invent­ed words wor­thy of banishment.

I DON’T KNOW WHO NEEDS TO HEAR THIS, BUTThis meme annoy­ing­ly became a very pop­u­lar way to begin a tweet in 2020, as in: “I don’t know who needs to hear this but keep doing you… don’t let the opin­ions of those who can’t or don’t affect you and your dri­ve or jour­ney. Keep push­ing & stay focused. There is a light at the end of the tun­nel. You get one life… make it count!” We don’t know who needs to hear this, but it’s entire­ly unnec­es­sary to begin a tweet with this tired, boil­er­plate filler. Reclaim char­ac­ters for what you real­ly want to say by drop­ping this preposition.

REAL PEOPLE PAID FOR REAL OPINIONS / REAL PEOPLE, NOT PAID ACTORS — These ridicu­lous phras­es have been trot­ted out by adver­tis­ing agen­cies on behalf of big cor­po­ra­tions like Microsoft in an attempt to make their prod­uct mar­ket­ing more cred­i­ble. Regard­less of whether an ad uses pro­fes­sion­al actors or not, it’s still mar­ket­ing, and the peo­ple in the ad are going to be say­ing favor­able things about the prod­uct or ser­vice. By the way, to any­one on Madi­son Avenue who might be read­ing this post, paid actors are just as “real” as peo­ple who don’t work in the per­for­mance arts for a liv­ing. What ulti­mate­ly makes a prod­uct endorse­ment cred­i­ble is whether it is sin­cere­ly meant and felt by the per­son giv­ing it.

Pre­vi­ous­ly ban­ished by NPI:

2020

  • We Should­n’t Be Pick­ing Win­ners and Losers
  • News Dump
  • Style Points
  • Cup­cake [in a grid­iron context]
  • View­er Dis­cre­tion is Advised
  • The Stakes Are Too High

2019

  • Spe­cial Snowflake
  • You Do You
  • Back-Break­ing
  • We Should Live With­in Our Means
  • She Shed
  • Please Lis­ten Care­ful­ly As Our Menu Has Changed

2018

  • Alter­na­tive Facts
  • Thoughts and Prayers
  • Zero Sum Game
  • Hive Mind
  • Woke
  • Not/Shouldn’t Be A Par­ti­san Issue

2017

  • Make Amer­i­ca Great Again/MAGA
  • Alt-Right
  • That Being Said
  • ____ Porn
  • Soft Tar­get

2016

  • Net­flix and Chill
  • Explo­sive Play
  • Chip In
  • Yuc­cie
  • Active, Flu­id Situation

2015

  • Chip­py
  • (If You) Work Hard And Play By The Rules
  • Inter­net of Things
  • Pick Six
  • Phys­i­cal­i­ty
  • Boots On The Ground
  • Send A Message

2014

  • Amazeballs/Balls to the Wall
  • FOMO (Fear Of Miss­ing Out)
  • Presh
  • Debt Ceil­ing
  • Enti­tle­ments

2013

  • Adork­able
  • -GEDDON con­truct (e.g. Snowmageddon)
  • Lit­er­al­ly
  • Mom­my Porn
  • Super­storm
  • Meh

2012

  • Guru
  • Some Would Say/Some Say
  • Job Cre­ator
  • Two-Thirds Major­i­ty
  • Let Me Be Per­fect­ly Clear
  • Offer Only Avail­able For A Lim­it­ed Time
  • Incen­tivize

2011

  • Your Call is Impor­tant To Us (an almost iden­ti­cal phrase was ban­ished by Lake Supe­ri­or State Uni­ver­si­ty in 1996)
  • Par­tial Zero Emis­sions Vehicle

Are there words you like to see ban­ished that aren’t on this year’s list – or LSSU’s all time list? If so, let us know in the com­ments. And Hap­py New Year!

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2 Comments

  1. “At the end of the day.” “I’m not going to lie” “To be hon­est with you.” “You’ve Got This” “Unapolo­getic” “dou­ble down” ” and what­ev­er ones that I can’t think of right now.
    Hap­py New Year!

    # by Mike Barer :: January 1st, 2021 at 3:06 PM
    • Good nom­i­na­tions!

      At the end of the day was ban­ished in 1999: 

      Used by many to sum­ma­rize a con­ver­sa­tion or debate, as in ‘at the end of the day, it’s all about fam­i­ly values.’

      “Used by polit­i­cal pun­dits. This is often recit­ed on evening cable talk shows when the hosts are explain­ing why, ‘at the end of the day, the Pres­i­dent will not be impeached.’ That may have been true for a par­tic­u­lar day, but it did not stand the test of time.” Mike McEl­roy, Good Hart, Michigan

      “Hol­ly­wood types and Wash­ing­ton bureau­crats seem unable to say ‘final­ly’ or ‘in the end.’ Ran­dall Heeres, Eng­lish Dept., North­ern Michi­gan Chris­t­ian H.S., McBain, Michigan

      To be per­fect­ly hon­est with you was ban­ished in 1992:

      “When some­one says that to me, it shows me he has already con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­i­ty of lying to me and, for some rea­son, has dis­card­ed it. It also makes me won­der if he’s lied to me before, and now is try­ing to lead a more moral life. – Dianne Lin­den, Edmon­ton, Alber­ta, Canada

      Dou­ble down was ban­ished in 2013:

      “This black­jack term is now used as a verb in place of ‘repeat’ or ‘reaf­firm’ or ‘reit­er­ate.’ Yet, it adds noth­ing. It’s not even col­or­ful. Hit me!” – Allan Ryan, Boston, Massachusetts

      “The next time I see or hear the phrase, I am going to dou­ble over.” – Tony Reed, Hol­land, Michigan

      “Overused with­in the last year or so in pol­i­tics.” – John Gates, Cum­ber­land, Maine

      “Bet­ter nip this in the bud – it’s already mor­phed into ‘quadru­ple down.’” – Marc Pon­to, Mil­wau­kee, Wisconsin


      I’m not going to lie
      , you’ve got this, and unapolo­getic have not been ban­ished. We will add those to our can­di­dates list for 2022. 

      # by Andrew Villeneuve :: January 1st, 2021 at 3:39 PM
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