The aptly named Lake Superior State University published the 44th instalment of their banished words list at the start of the year. This tradition, one of several eccentric marketing ploys dreamed up by the late W T Rabe, invites members of the public to nominate words and phrases that have slipped into common parlance despite their impotent disapproval.
This year’s nominations, as with the full list itself, is a mix of neologisms, management-speak clichés and terms contributors consider to be variously too old-fashioned or too modern to be uttered again. Notable items include:
‘ghosting’, to cease communication with someone suddenly, without explanation, usually in the dating world;
‘crusty’, which contributor Hannah notes has (recently?!) “become a popular insult”; and
‘Thought Leader’, essentially someone widely recognised as an expert in the field.
Lists like this are invariably haughty, prescriptive attempts to define what is and isn’t ‘proper’ in a language whose strength lies in its continuous development. They’re based primarily on snobbery and linguistic prejudice, which often reflect the latent prejudices of their authors and readers.
Of course, these lists also sit nicely in the ‘bit of fun’ category. I’m also aware that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. But any serious suggestion that there are (or should be) rules proscribing the use of modern, fashionable or (whisper it!) annoying verbiage should be approached with caution. That such a message might come from a US university (albeit a small one) at a time when freedom of speech is such a hot-button issue on campus…
Well, just consider the optics.