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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

January 2, 2006

LSSU’s banished words list get a D grade

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 11:12 pm

– Welcome to those coming from Blawg Review Awards 2005.

For our reaction to winning he “Creative Law Blog” Award

Last yearf/k/a let it slide.  Like the devil quoting scripture or an appellate

lawyer choosing caselaw to cite, we cherry-picked banned words from

annually, without critiquing the overall quality of the list.   [e.g., we touted

the censoring of blog” in 2005 and “bling-bling” in 2004]


So caught up in ends rather than means, f/k/a even urged readers to

make particular suggestions to LSSU for this year’s list.   Now, how-

ever, under our newly adopted motto of “carpe diem” — Sicilian for

“complain daily” or maybe “wrap the fish with this weblog” — we’ve

got to come clean: the LSSU list is far too banal and amateurish to

deserve all the attention it garners, even considering that the New Year’s

holiday is usually a slow period for news.

erasingS In fact, given how little there is to do at LSSU, there

is no excuse for a list that appears to have been drawn out

of a hat, from unfiltered sources, and then embellished by

the remedial English class with explanations that mostly

came from the original complainant, unedited for proper logic,

grammar or syntax.

Why is f/k/a turning its mighty weblog cannon on this tiny educational

outpost?  First, because we can; and second, because the college’s 

Public Relations Department began the Banishment List in 1975  “as

a publicity ploy for little-known LSSU.”   If the List is meant to attract

attention to LSSU, it is surely fair to ask what it tells us about this seat

of higher learning.


The history page for the List tells us:



“The first list was dreamed up by [Public Relations  Director

W. T. “Bill”] Rabe and a group of friends at a New Year’s

Eve party in 1975. The following day, he released the list

and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then, nominations

for words and expressions to be banished have been invited

and accepted throughout the year. . . .


“After Rabe retired in 1987, the University copyrighted the

concept and continued the tradition. The popularity of the

effort shows no signs of dwindling.  Hundreds of nominations

are received each year.”

Thus, the first List was done overnight (probably while imbibing spiked

eggnog), while LSSUers now toil for an entire year on each Banned List,

with input from around the world.  Judge for yourself whether the 2006

List is an improvement on the 1976 version (or the ones in between). 

We don’t think so.





Here’s Lake Superior State University’s 2006 list of words and

phrases banished “for mis-use, over-use and general uselessness”

(check out the accompanying “explanations” for the full effect):

– Surreal

– Hunker down

– Person of interest

– Community of learners

– Up-or-down vote

– Breaking news

– Designer breed


– First-time caller

– Pass the savings on to you!

– 97 percent fat-free

– An accident that didn’t have to happen ambulance f

– Junk science

– Git-er-done

– Dawg

– Talking points

– Holiday tree

Right off, notice that there are 17 items.  As George Carlin ably

(at 14), when you have a list, “Ten sounds important,” and other

numbers just don’t seem serious.  Seventeen suggests there

simply were no clear criteria for making the cut. 


More persuasive on the lack of a standard is the fact that so

many of the items have nothing to do with the year 2005. As the

AP reports notes, “Many of the phrases banned this year are not

new.”  To which I add, “and were not used in a noticeably different

or increased manner last year.”  Examples are:

first-time caller” — should have been banned

at least of decade ago by Rush Limbaugh himself.


pass the savings on to you!I bet a Michigan

fisherman was using this sales pitch before the

State got into the Union.


97 percent fat-free” — not this well-padded List


Talking points” — was all talked-out years ago


An accident that didn’t have to happen” — not

exactly a cliche.  Was it used a lot in 2005?



 Larry the Cable Guy t-shirt


Frankly, I saw no uptick in the use of “surreal” and I had

never even heard of “Git-Er-Done” until I saw it on this List

(perhaps a side benefit of my avoiding sports channels).

Are the students and professors (and PR folk) at LSSU

watching too much television, or am I watching too little?

As for “breaking news,” all urgency was sucked out of

that phrase with the birth of 24-hour news cycles (not to

mention Entertainment Tonight).


The List-makers also seem to be willing to throw out both

the baby and the frozen bath water.  “Dawg” (which was

used in print for “dog” as early as 1898, but still isn’t in

the online Rap Dictionary), for example, comes in handy

when a guy wants to show a degree of amiability toward

another male, without showing too much affection.  Also,

we simply can’t go around banning all terms of endearment

that refer to animals. 


Similarly, “person of interest” is a very useful phrase for  erasingSF

law enforcement to use when it does not have sufficient

information (or strategically is not ready) to classify some-

one as a suspect, subject, target.  Before banning it, we

suggest the fire science and criminal justice faculty and

students at LSSU come up with a more appropriate term.


What does the Banished Word List tell us about LSSU?

We don’t know whether the List was actually drafted by

teachers, students or public relations staff, but we can say

that whoever is responsible can’t stay on task, anticipate

consequences, or write persuasively.   All in all, not the

kind of image that would seem to help the School’s

admissions mission. 


Just as George Carlin whittled the Commendments down

from Ten to Two, we’d like to suggest that the LSSU List

would be better if stripped down to Four timely phrases

this year:

• Up-or-down vote

• Designer breed

• Junk science

• Git-er-done

We’re giving “Git-er-Done” the benefit of the doubt,  GitErDoneG 

(mostly so we can use this nifty image again by Cable Guy).

But, we (a) will all need FEMA at some point and should not

throw out the acronym; (b) should retain the right to “hunker

down” as necessary; and (c) need to be reminded about the 

faux War on Christmas that was sparked this year by Holiday



Skeptics might think that this critique stems from LSSU’s failure

to include our choice for the most odious phrase of the year —  

nuclear option.”   Skeptics aren’t always wrong, but we believe

our motives are pure.    Of course, if you happen to be making

your own List of Banned or Closely-Regulated Words and Phrases,

please do check out our argument regarding “nuclear option,”

which we (like columnist Ellen Goodman) believe should be

limited to “the real thing” — nuclear war or nuclear power plants.


Once “nuclear option” was used by Senators and the press to

refer to the filibuster rules of the U.S. Senate, its use spread

to other political and social actions and decisions that various

actors or reports thought might  have serious consequences. 

The f/k/a Gang believes this misused, overused and confusing

metaphor is representative of a sorry trend of verbal abuse that

amounts to neglect of our language legacy.  As we said last


bombFuse  “The lazy linguistic practice (often perpetrated

and perpetuated by the popular media) of using familiar,

analogous situations not merely to explain a new concept,

but also to name it, is making a mess of our language, with

more and more phrases simply making no sense on their face.” 

(We used “black box” and “DNA finger-prints” as examples)


But, taking the term “nuclear option” out of the realm of war

strategy, and using it in the context of U.S. Senate filibuster

rules is several steps farther down the road toward language

lunacy.    I don’t care that a politican used the phrase.  The

media are in the communications business, they need to use

words that express meaning.  Did anyone think of calling it the

Filibuster-Buster Option?

“toiletpaperf”  Does LSSU give “gentleman’s C’s”?  Maybe next year’s List

will deserve such a grade.  For now, we’re going to hand out a “D”

and hope the sting will motivate all those involved in creating the

Banished Word List to try harder and do better.  The List might be

done “tongue-in cheek,” but there is no reason that cheeky tongues

can’t be eloquent, subtle, and insightful.


p.s.   We would also like to nominate “heh” as a word that should

be banned from the Blogiverse — or at least self-censored by any

self-respecting weblogger other the Big Guy himself.  Merely alluding

to Prof. Reynolds is not a good enough excuse for using this incredibly

overused, surreally stale exclamation, whether to show mild-ironic

amusement or surprise   (Abusers know who you are.)      



“Old&NewYearS”  After all this discussion of unwanted words, a new year

is a good time to reprise some of my favorite John Stevenson

haiku and senryu:


First, the title poems from three of his published

volumes of poetry Some of the Silence (1999),

quiet enough (2004), Something Unerasable (1995):



a deep gorge . . .

   some of the silence

        is me





snowy night

sometimes you can’t be

quiet enough







under the

blackest doodle

something unerasable


“snowflakeS” And, a miscellany of poems I wish I had


wind-beaten marquee
saying only
“Coming Soon”






proud host
his orchard bursting
with fireflies


– from Some of the Silence (Red Moon Press, 1999)



the tethered dog
watches the guide dog
enter a deli


one last look
through the old apartment
a dry sponge



the mirror
wiped clean
for a guest




“stevensonQuietN” – quiet enough (Red Moon Press, 2004)

city lights —

the brightest are all

selling something






before there is any

tune in my head







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