Tuesday September 23, 2014

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Banished words list is made for curmudgeons

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Every year, Lake Superior State University makes a list of “banished words”, an assortment of words and phrases that cause surly curmudgeons to get all up in arms about the kids these days. While that might not be the stated purpose of the list, it is basically what it’s used for, with any word heavily used by the under-30 set eventually finding its way onto the list. This year’s list includes the words amazing and ginormous, along with things like “win the future”, which appears to be an attempt to explain to grandma what the acronym WTF means without using a profanity.

The general theme of these lists is that any word that is in heavy usage among young people is wrong, and back in the day of the compiler’s day language was better and they all used proper terminology. It’s not simply a list of words that have gotten very popular in the last year, which might be an interesting look at how language develops and the different trends in communication. No, they want to banish these words, which is just being curmudgeonly.

Now, there are plenty of words out there I don’t like, many in the popular usage. “Blog,” for instance, is probably the most unpleasant sounding word in existence, and yet it’s mentioned all the time when it comes to online interaction. I also don’t like “man cave,” on this year’s list, because it suggests that having a particularly masculine room in your home is somehow primitive, and it also makes the person saying it sound fairly silly. In those cases, yes, I can understand where these people are coming from, because sometimes language develops in a way that you simply don’t like, and it can be kind of annoying to watch it happen in regular conversation.

But, even if I understand it, that doesn’t mean that creating a list of “banished words” isn’t ultimately a childish reaction to something that isn’t really a problem in the first place. Yes, there are some things I don’t like in popular usage, and that’s fine, I just won’t use them myself. I’m sure if I lived in the same 19th century that the people complaining would like to move back to, I would have found some of the trends among the youth similarly grating. In forty years when I’m an old man, I’ll likely be sitting on the front step complaining about the kids and their hoverboards or whatever big trend is happening among the future’s young folks.

That’s just how these things go, people complain about the youth of today, as though they were perfect and wonderful children who never gave their parents any grief. In this specific instance, they are complaining about the language often employed by today’s young, forgetting that they had their own slang that annoyed the angry old folk. The banished word list doesn’t really accomplish anything, apart from letting some angry curmudgeons vent for a few minutes about how language has gone all wrong.

Maybe it has, at least from some perspectives, but if a language is in use it isn’t going to stay static. So it should be expected that words and phrases will come up that people plain don’t like, and there will be slang cropping up that only makes sense to the youth of that particular moment. That’s just how it works, and instead of trying to banish what gets to be popular, it’s time to just live with it. There’s nothing you can do to stop language from changing.


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