Thursday, January 26, 2012

LSSU: Banishing Words to Oblivion

"Whoomp, There It Is! (1994)" Lake Superior State University or LSSU has released its annual Banished Words List for 2012! The Banished Words List is a collection of words that nominators would like cleansed from the English language. At the very least, these are words that nominators no longer want to hear being used by media personalities or by the general public. The first Banished Words List was issued by LSSU in 1976. Since then, people have been nominating words that they believe should be in the list for a particular year. Although not everyone is in agreement with the words that make it to the final cut, still, it is great fun to find out why these words have been deemed over-ripe and need to be removed from the collective consciousness of society.

Why the need for a list?

LSSU wanted to point out that people have a tendency to over-use and most often, mis-use words sometimes to the point where the words or phrases become generally useless. Words and phrases like "awesome (1984 & 2007)," "you go, girl (1997)," "win-win (1993)," and "to die for (1995)" for instance have been beaten to a pulp. These words started out as interesting and useful. But alas, they eventually became as pleasant to the ears as the sound of fingernails scratching on a chalkboard. To help regain some linguistic dignity, LSSU comes up with a yearly list as a reminder to all.

LSSU and the birth of the Banished Words List

Lake Superior State University started out as Lake Superior State College in 1946. Located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, right along the border of US and Canada, the college was established for veterans of World War II who were returning after the war. By 1970, the once Michigan College of Mining and Technology branch became autonomous from its mother institution. In 1987, the college completed its transformation to all full-pledged university.  LSSU offers over 60 degree programs including accounting, biology, computer science, fisheries and wildlife management, geology, engineering, criminal justice, teacher education, psychology and nursing.

It was LSSU's Public Relations Director, W.T. Rabe (now retired from the said post), who spearheaded much of the campaign to lift the small college out of oblivion and distance itself from Michigan Technological University. As early as 1971, the legendary Rabe established a group called Unicorn Hunters and instituted events like the yearly Snowman Burning, which was the then college's way to usher in the 1st day of spring.

The Banished Words List first came out in 1976. It was prepared in 1975 by Rabe and some friends at a party on New Year's Eve. Because of the popularity of the said list with the locals and with the international community, Rabe continued churning out lists since then. People have been invited to nominate words or expressions that they believed should be banished from the English language for a particular year.

Why release the list on January 1st? Rabe, a newsman himself, knew that the list would get the maximum coverage on New Year's Day because January 1st has always been what journalists term as a particularly slow news day. Each 1st of January, students, faculty, the local and international news organizations, and people who have grown fond of the list eagerly anticipate the Banished Words List. The list's popularity continues to grow especially because of its accessibility given the current state of computer technology. The 2012 Banished Words List is the 37th of its kind. It looks likes Rabe's brainchild will live on for a long time.

The first list

Since 1976, a whole slew of words have been banished by LSSU. The numbers are close to 900 to date. The words found in the very first Banished Words List are the following:

At this point in time
Call for Resignation
Implement and Viable

You can find, enjoy and criticize the different Banished Words Lists on the LSSU website. A few of the words that have appeared on the lists since its inception are:

24/7 (2000)
<3 (2009) - it is supposed to look like a heart
Absolutely! (1993)
App (2010)
Awesome (1984 & 2007)
Baby boomers (1989)
Been There, Done That (1996)
Bling or Bling-Bling (2004)
Carbs (2005)
Exact Same (1981 & 1990)
Flip Flop  (2005)
Hello?! (1999)
My Bad (1988)

Organic (2008)

There are too many interesting words and phrases to mention and it would be best to read it from the LSSU site rather than repeat the same information here. In the LSSU website you can also get an explanation as to why these words made it to the list.

What's in the 2012 list?

The words and phrases that won a seat on the 2012 Banished Words List are:

Baby bump (came in second to the top word)
Blowback (corporate jargon meaning reaction)
Ginormous (used when gigantic and enormous are not big enough)
Man cave (popularized in television, movies and sports shows)
Occupy (gained popularity due to the Occupy Wall Street movement)
Pet parent (goes beyond pet owner)
Shared sacrifice (a politician's go-to word referring to sharing the burden)
The new normal (justifies new bad trends or styles)
Trickeration (why the word trickery does not suffice is a mystery)
Win the future (there must be much dislike for this politician's term that it landed in the list)
Thank you in advance (condescending much?)

But what got the most nominations for 2012 is, drum roll, please, "AMAZING." Apparently, more than 1,500 people put this word on the list. It seems that the alleged fault lies on journalist Anderson Cooper and media mogul/lifestyle maven Martha Stewart according to the nominators of this word. Not only were people from America and Canada gunning for "amazing," nominations were also received from as far as Scotland, England and Israel. The powers-that-be that issue the yearly list were caught by surprise because the word "amazing" was never part of any of the other lists in the past.

Is it right to banish words?

Freedom of speech, at least in some countries, essentially gives individuals the right to say what they wants to say. Of course, not unless what one is saying is slanderous and can result in a legal action. However, over-using or mis-using words may make a person appear unintelligent to the more educated crowd. There may be a sort of snobbery to the Banished Words List but at the same time it serves as a reminder that there is no need to use flowery words or meaningless words when there are better words that can communicate what you need or want to say succinctly and, more importantly, accurately.

When celebrities, politicians, media personalities and plain wannabes start dishing out over-used and mis-used words, one can't help but imagine the great writers and linguists cringing. Shakespeare must be turning over in his grave whenever someone mis-uses the language he loved.

In the end, it is up to the individual whether he wants to continue using the words in the Banished Words List or not. But when doing so, hopefully he uses the words the way these words were intended to be used in the English language. Otherwise, he might not be "on the same page (1996)" as the person he is attempting to communicate with even if that person is his "BFF (2011)."

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