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 writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
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This could be the last post on this blog ever

I believe writer’s block is an affectation experienced by successful authors who have made enough money to let their egos be picky.

I am not a successful author. I’m a former journalist, maybe even a failed one.

But I have found it hard to write of late.

I am tired. The fall semester drained me. The classes were hard. They shook my confidence. I went from knowing I could teach to thinking I could teach.

Maybe that swing is good. A person needs to earn swagger. I earned a little in paragraph stacking, but I have none in teaching.

I begin student teaching in January.

I have some decisions to make about my public writing before then.

I have lived a partially public life in the age of social media.

I have accounts on all the major platform and about 11,000 combined followers.

That’s not much if you’re Beyonce.

It’s decent if you’re some random fat guy in the Midwest who typed up police reports and weather stories for the local newspaper.

The decision: Do I delete all those accounts?

The easiest answer is “yes.”

The problem is I sometimes say things on these platforms that people find objectionable.

I try to stay out of politics and religion, although I’ve dipped into both over time.

Mom 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines hairdresser who raised me after my parents died, always tried to keep those topics out of her beauty shop. I keep them out of my feed as best I can.

But everything is an argument these days.

I’ll give you an example: I have not been very excited about the most recent actor to play the lead in “Doctor Who.”

I don’t blame the actor, not really. I just don’t think the stories are very good.
I voiced this opinion in the comic shop. One of the employees sighed heavily and said, “The world was not ready for its first female Doctor.”

The implication in that comment is that the reason I don’t like the show is because I don’t like women.

I said nothing. I paid for my comics and left.

I wanted to reply and make my point more clearly, but any protest would have led to politics, which the shop owner tries to avoid for the same reason Mom 2.0 did.

I’m sure if I kept talking, I would be accused of sexism or misogyny. It’s not a conversation worth having.

This was a real-world conversation, where you can read body language and tone.

Now take that conversation online, remove context and any sense of sanity.

The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Victimhood rules the internet.

If I were to make such a comment about disliking “Doctor Who” stories in recent seasons online, one of them might find me and decide I was the worst person in the world.

Then they might go on quest to wreck my life.

A person with whom you disagree about “Doctor Who” must not be able to have a job or get a cup of coffee. They must be shunned and forced to the edges of society.

Employers hate controversy. They have a business to run. Bosses don’t need their employees drumming up problems for them by what say on the internet.

First Amendment free speech protections only prevent the government from muzzling you. Your employer can absolutely tell you to shut up about your opinions on “Doctor Who” or clean out your desk.

I plan to work in public schools.

If all goes as planned — and, please, God, let me get what I want this time — I will be ending my first semester as a fully licensed teacher by this time next year.

I have no intention of rocking the boat with mean tweets about “Doctor Who” episodes — or anything else for that matter.

So, do I just spike the whole thing?

Do I kill the blog? Should I delete Facebook, Twitter, and the rest?

I think maybe I should.

However, I also think I enjoy writing for an audience and the people who read this blog have been very kind and loyal to me for the past couple years, some of the worst in my adult life.

There are other options.

I could make the blog, Facebook page, and Twitter private. I could control who is in and who is out.

I know some people who do that just so they can complain about the terrible play of the Chicago Bears with a wider range of vocabulary than is allowed at the Methodist Sunday night potluck.

I don’t know how successful making accounts private is. I figure if you put it out there, eventually someone who is serious about getting to it will get to it.

What am I going to do?

I don’t know.

I don’t have to decide today.

Maybe over a couple glasses of eggnog and some holiday cheer, I’ll have an epiphany.

Until then, save me a snowman cookie and keep telling your story.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
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Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

IRS refund delays put school plans at risk

The time: 12:39 a.m. The place: My cluttered 635 square-foot apartment a fart and armpit noise away from Drake University. I’m hunched over my elegantly aging laptop with Warren Zevon’s “Poor, Poor Pitful Me” blasting in my eardrums at top volume and my Oska Tigers ballcap screwed on my bald head.

My body shakes with anxiety. It’s been that kind of day. Or yesterday was that kind of day. These wee, small hours of the morning posts are tricky bastards when it comes to the timing of things.

I checked my credit union balance this afternoon. I needed to get some allergy pills.

I wanted to save back a few bills for when my buddy, Memphis Paul, hits town next week. We don’t close the bars anymore, but I was thinking of a nice trip to the Amana and the Ox Yoke Inn restaurant with a stop in Iowa City at Prairie Lights Books and Cafe.

To my surprise, my online tax preparer had deducted about $240 from my account, leaving me in the all-too familiar position of being flat-ass broke.

Bad balance juju

What fuckery was this?

I indeed used the company’s software to prepare and file my taxes. But they were to take the money out of my refund, not my bank account.

My refund was big enough to cover the prep fees and take care of a couple months’ worth of rent with change left over.

Said refund has yet to arrive in my account. Apparently, the previous president of the United States was not fond of the IRS, particularly their auditors, and gutted the staffing for the agency.

The pandemic forced federal employees out of their enclaves and taxes filed by paper form piled up for the 2019 tax year and the beginning of the 2020 filing season.

IRS hell

My refund has been tied up in IRS hell since my return was filed and accepted on April 15. Normally it takes 21 days to process. We are at 68 days and counting.

I’ve tried to get the IRS on the phone. This usually meant hours on hold with a recording bleating the woes of the understaffed agency. A few times I got to a point where even the recording gave up on the charade and said, “Call back tomorrow or send us an email.”

Only the federal government can stick its middle finger so squarely in your eye without fear of reprisal.

I tried to make my elected officials work for me, which on face value seems as foolhardy as chewing tinfoil to improve your car radio reception.

The futility of representative democracy

Calling your elected representative: The last refuge of the desperate.

I dialed up the offices of Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and Rep. Cindy Axne.

Ernst’s office didn’t return the call. Maybe she takes personally all those columns where I called her “Dollar Store Sarah Palin.” That’s fair. Ernst seems exactly the kind of person who is only interested in helping the people who scratch her back.

Grassley’s office called and sent me a privacy form to fill out. I did so. I’ve not yet heard back from his people.

Axne’s office emailed me the form. I sent it back the same way. The next day someone called back and said they would assign it to a caseworker who deals with IRS problems.

They warned me this is an ongoing problem and they’ve dealt with a lot of calls about it. I’m supposed to hear something back this Friday.

Companies inside of companies

So, back to the online tax preparer, whom I’ve done business with since 2001. I paid the company the extra dough for 24-7 support because if there was a year shit was going to go sideways on my taxes, it would be the year I lost two jobs and lived off unemployment.

I dialed the tax prep company up and got a man on the phone within minutes.

The reason they hit my bank account: It’s the fine print, the man said. In the fine print, I agreed to pay the online tax preparer even if my refund never shows up.

We did send you three emails, the man said.

I searched my mail. I found nothing.

He read my email address to me. It was an address I hadn’t used for years and it isn’t the one I log into the tax prep site with.

Ah, well there was the rub, the tax prep man said. I changed my email with that part of the company, but there’s this other company that handles the money transaction side of things.

That part of the company sent emails to an address I no longer use warning me of the pending transaction. If I had replied to one of those messages, they would have extended my grace period.

But I don’t check that email. So, I’m out that cash. It’s legit. But it still sucks.

Hopeless against the merciless

I don’t know what a citizen is supposed to do. You can’t fight the IRS. You can’t get them on the phone. The government works about as well as going uphill in roller skates in an ice storm.
I’m unemployed. I need that money, which the law says is my money and should be returned to me.

This wouldn’t hit so hard if Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds hadn’t cut off the pandemic assistance unemployment, which tacked an extra $300 to unemployment insurance.

Reynolds seems primarily concerned that restaurant servers get back to work for substandard wages and earn their tips rather than make a living wage.

I’ll remind you that the $300 unemployment booster came from federal money and didn’t take a cent from Reynold’s budget. And the money ended in September anyway.

If Disney keeps up with this “Cruella” franchise, they might consider Reynolds for the lead role.

Job market is great for servers

Some jerk already has their pity “Get a job!” response keyed up. Yeah. I’m trying.

Funny thing about that, though. I had a job for 23 years. I worked at different shops. But I did well until one day I made too much money for the greedy Wall Street hustlers and the put me on the bricks.

By then, I hated my job and what it had become so much, it was almost a relief to be cut loose from the toxic trade.

What I quickly learned is the skill set I have may have value to other careers, but I have zero skill in translating what I can do to what people need done. I’ve paid companies to help me with it.

The closest I got was a short engagement with a TV station that was an absolute disaster because I was totally out of my element.

Trying to be a better person

But what I’m really trying to do is get a new career. I’m studying to be a teacher, to give back to the institutions that gave so much to me and maybe pass along what I’ve learned.

I’m am trying to be a better person. I’m trying to grow out of this miserable experience. And, yeah, I wanted to go for a nice meal with my buddy whom I haven’t seen in three years.

The time is 1:43 a.m. Zevon’s “Mr. Bad Example” blasts. Boy, that man knew how to sling a savage lyric.

I get it. This is America. There are winners and losers. And if you’re a loser, it’s your fault. Nobody gives a shit about the runners-up let alone the last guy to cross the line. And if you don’t make it? Hey, you might as well not exist.

Reminds me of another Zevon tune: “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”

Somehow, I got stuck between a rock and a hard place

And I’m down on my luck

I’m down on my luck.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.