Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The latest from Michigan's Word Banishment Committee

by Cate Masters
Each year, Michigan’s Lake Superior State University releases a list of words it categorizes for General Uselessness, Overuse or Mis-use. In this year’s annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English, The Word Banishment Committee narrowed down the thousands of nominated words and phrases to these: tweet, shovel-ready, transparent/transparency, czar, app, sexting, teachable moment, friend (as a verb), in these economic times, stimulus, toxic assets, chillaxin’, bromance, and any word combining the President’s last name, such as Obamanomics, Obamanation… you get the idea.
I’ve never been a fan of buzzwords, so have no problem with never hearing some of the above terms again. However, I’m against censorship in general, and as a writer, I hate to lose any words that might prove useful. It’s like taking tools away from a craftsperson, and words are critical tools for communication, the basis of human understanding.
Obviously, authors should weigh each word for its usefulness. Jargon with short shelf lives can quickly date a story - for good or bad, depending whether it’s intentional. If an author needs to immerse a reader in a specific time period, certain words can immediately conjure the era. Likewise, use of certain phrases can enhance a character by making that character’s speech identifiable to the reader without tags.
Dumbing down language has never made sense to me. We want to educate our youth – and our population in general. Why corrode their understanding by removing relevant words and phrases? An obscure word used in the right context is immediately understandable to the reader, and enhances vocabulary. Writers sometimes take flack for using “million dollar words” but I, for one, prefer meticulously crafted work. Prefer Michael Chabon to say, Elmore Leonard. Yes, Elmore writes a good story. But his writing is blah. It leaves me cold. Certain other authors whose novels have gone on to film write so poorly, I can’t get through the entire book. Yes, I’m picky, but I aspire to write as well as the authors I admire: Margaret Atwood. Charles D’Ambrosio (his writing is ambrosia to me!). Richard Russo. I could go on, but you get the idea.
As the AP explained, the list is by no means official, and the committee itself says it’s all in good fun. Many previously-banned words or phrases still appear in current conversations – also for good or bad, but it’s for the individual to decide. I’ve been known to repeat phrases such as it is what it is. 24/7, happy camper, LOL, and back in the day, not so much (though this phrase made the list last year). Curious about other words the committee has banned over the past 35 years? The complete list is here.

Cate Masters writes fantasy/dark fantasy, historical, contemporary and speculative fiction, described by reviewers as “so compelling I I did not want to put it down,” “such romantic tales that really touch your soul,” “filled with action scenes which made it a riveting story,” and “the author weaves a great tale with a creative way of using words that makes the story refreshing to read.” Visit Cate online at www.catemasters.com, www.catemasters.blogspot.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.


Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I am so tired of some of those words also but I'm sure some new irritating misuses of the language will crop up as the year progresses.

Cate Masters said...

Absolutely, Susan! I'm 150 Percent Behind You! There's an Active Possibility that, By and Large, Creative Differences will result in a new Functionality in our vocabulary, and For Sure, we'll Get With the Program.
OK, had to stop at the I's on the list. :)