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Circling back to Lake Superior State University’s ‘banished words’ list, at the end of the day, it makes the new normal tolerable

Lake Superior State University publishes an annual list of “Banished Words.”

The Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, school doesn’t really want to ban words. It wants to curb cliché.

Clutter is the greatest enemy to clarity in language use.

I support any effort to stamp out cliché. Having people saying all the same phrases all the time makes conversation exceptionally dull.

Clichés also give people who are decidedly not clever the impression they are.

Lake Superior State’s 2022 list of words banished “for misuse, overuse, and uselessness” include the phrases “Circle back,” “Asking for a friend,” No worries,” “You’re on Mute,” “New normal,” “Supply chain,” “Deep dive,” “That being said,” and “At the end of the day.”

My favorite banishment on this list is “new normal.”

New normal reminds me of the world “morale.”

Nobody asks people what the morale is of the youth baseball team at the ice cream store.

They ask about morale during war, when people are breaking things and killing people — and being killed — to enforce the political will of their government.

Morale, like new normal, should be governed by the lyrics to a terrific Bruce Cockburn song: “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

Lake Superior State started banishing words in 1976 when a public relations person put out a satirical press release that caught the attention of bored newspaper reporters desperately trying to avoid another story about tax increment financing districts.

The university’s website includes an archive of previously banned words. I poked around for important dates in my life.

I looked at their first edition, 1976, when I was 1.

Banned by Lake Superior State included a “Call for resignation of all sports writers who fail to state clearly in the lead: The winner and the score.”

This was the advice I got as a young reporter in the early 1990s.

Today’s sports writers are writing for an audience who’ve known the score for hours and hunger for analysis that will help them make better fantasy football roster choices.

The university tossed “at this point in time,” which warms my heart.

Winterset had a biology teacher with a habit of repeating this phrase. Some of us kept score on our notebooks how often he said this. He was not amused.

Lake Superior State derided “macho” as “seldom pronounced properly and therefore lacks meaningfulness.”

I always associated the word positively with Burt Reynolds.

Today, “macho” is closely associated with “toxic masculinity,” which is one in a long series of social justice words I hope to see on future lists.

Lake Superior State wanted to trash “Star Wars” in 1985. The school referred to a proposed nuclear defense system that was as much science fiction as the films that preceded it.

In retrospect, I wish they had applied it to “Star Wars” itself, given the low-grade return on most of the movies that followed.

Someone borrowed from George Carlin’s material for a quip about “near miss,” arguing that it should be a “’near hit’ because it didn’t nearly miss, it actually did miss.’”

I was 10 years old in 1985. Ages 9 to 12 are the years, at least in terms of entertainment and friendships, that I look back on as the most halcyon of my youth.

I was too distracted by Nintendo and “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” to get caught up in pedantic arguments about banning the use of “read” as a noun or the esoteric “In diesem unseren lande.”

The school says the phrase means “in this, our country,” and was used by German Chancellor Helmet Kohl too often.

Most Americans today couldn’t tell you who the German chancellor was without a Google search.

Even then, I’d wager a dime that they get distracted by texts or the latest outrage video.

Maybe I’m right to romanticize the age. These banished words were more thoughtful than when I graduated high school in 1993.

I cringe at how many of the banished words I used in my life, such as “went ballistic,” “victimless crime,” “win-win” and “bonding.”

Some words refused to their banishment. Political animals still use phrases such as “grass roots” and “gridlock” to describe political movements or lack of political movement.

Some banished words just took on a different spelling. “Downsizing,” for example, became “right-sizing” briefly, and currently lurks through greedy hustler corporations as “separation.”

Sneaky your-out-of-job talk continued in 1997, the year I graduated college.

The university banished “out-sourcing,” which really means firing the people who were doing work for you and hiring another company to do it cheaper, thus unburdening the shareholders with the responsibility to pay people a decent wage with benefits.

“Get a life,” “phone tag,” and “down time” all made the 1997 list, but perhaps I am of this generation, I still use them.

I don’t know how banned “You go, girl” would play in the age of intersectionality. My personal policy is to tread carefully when it comes to race, politics, and gender issues lest I unleash the wrath of bloodthirsty extremists.

I hope we can all agree that banished list from 1997 got one thing right: “La Macarena” should never be heard or seen again unless at a 1990s theme party for children who did not have to live through that novelty song.

Scroll through the lists and find the phrase that seem like you just said or heard them five minutes ago.

“Metrosexual?” Banned in 2004.

“Blue states/red states” and “… and I approve this message” unsuccessfully ejected in 2005.

“GITMO,” a military shorthand for the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison where suspected terrorists are being held. President Barack Obama’s first executive order closed GITMO in 2009. It remains open.

Neither “tweet” nor Twitter came to an end in 2010, but one could make a case the microblogging website continues to contribute to the downfall of our democracy.

The list knocked out a couple of my least favorite cliches with “baby bump” and “pet parent” getting tossed in 2012 and “bucket list” and “trending” (as in social media trends) from 2013.

By 2017, I was too old for trendy words. Lake Superior State stayed on top of things, banning “831,” which apparently means 8 letters, 3 words, 1 one meaning: I love you.

I am not a dad but have a “dadbod,” which the school clipped in 2017 as well.

The pandemic dominated 2020 and 2021’s word bans. “Unprecedented,” “In an abundance of caution,” “social distancing,” “In these uncertain times,” and “we’re all in this together” got the hook last year.

I won’t guess on what words get the Lake Superior State ban in 2023, but here’s a few I hope never to make the list:

  1. Read a book offline.
  2. Gather with friends and family and without devices.
  3. Embrace silence.
  4. Observe nature.
  5. Tell people you love them often.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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