Power to banish words

NEW DELHI: Here’s a chance for word watchers to target pet peeves from everyday speech and from other fields, including news, and “banish” them for their “mis-use, over-use and general uselessness”.

Michigan’s Lake Superior State University (LSSU), which “banishes” words each year, is inviting entries at its website for its 31st list to be released on January 1, 2007. The university is among the first to compile such a list, which has been widely emulated by several portals.

Through the years, LSSU has received thousands of nominations for its “all-time” list of banished words and phrases, which now stands at nearly 800.

It was during a New Year’s party three decades ago when LSSU public relations director Bill Rabe and some colleagues “cooked up a whimsical idea to banish overused words and phrases” as a publicity gimmick. On January 1, 1976, with “tongue firmly in cheek”, Rabe took his first crack at it. Much to the delight (or chagrin) of word enthusiasts everywhere, the list endures into a fourth decade.

Here’s a quick list of words and phrases that have been banished by the university in the recent and not so recent past. In 2006, the university banished “breaking news” because “once breaking news stopped presses, but now it’s an intestinal condition brought about by eating dinner during newscasts”. The contributor, Michael Raczko of Ohio, said: “Now they have to interrupt my supper to tell me that Katie Holmes is pregnant.” The year before the most over-used and misused word seemed to be “embedded journalist”, which was eventually banished.

The website got nominations for this Iraq war phrase from across the globe. “I’m a journalist and until the war started, I’d never heard this term. In the interest of objectivity, journalists probably shouldn’t be embedded with any organisation they regularly cover,” wrote Ken Marten of Michigan to the website.

Some other banned words and phrases that came straight from Iraq include “smoking gun” (“Let’s give the 21-gun salute to this overused analogy,” said a contributor); “shock and awe”; “captured alive” (“The news keeps stating that Saddam Hussein was ‘captured alive’. Well, what other way are you going to be captured? Maybe ‘found dead’ or ‘discovered dead’ never ‘captured dead’.”) and “shots rang out”.

LSSU seems to have come a long way since it first banned words in 1976. The words and phrases were far simpler then — “this point in time” was banished in favour of “why not say ‘now’ or ‘today’? Another word that was expelled because it had lost all its meaningfulness was “meaningful”.

The “journey” has been long for LSSU even as it ended up deleting the word in 2005. Metrosexual, an urban male who pays too much attention to his appearance, was killed in 2005, after Fred Bernardin of Massachusetts, asked, “Aren’t there enough words to describe men who spend too much time in front of the mirror?” Phrases that have been ridiculed for their “uselessness” include — “place stamp here” —”Can we legitimately claim to be a superpower if we need to be reminded to put a stamp on an envelope?” a nomination for the phrase read.

In the same category fall — “first-time caller”, a preamble often heard on talk radio; “97 per cent fat free”, described as “adventures in delusion”; “an accident that didn’t have to happen” — “Does this mean some accidents need to happen?” asked a contributor. Recent inventions like “companion animals” for pets; “wardrobe malfunction” (“It can’t be the wardrobe’s fault!”); “LoL” (laugh out loud) and other abbreviated e-mail speak; “blog” (including blogger, blogged, blogging, blogosphere); “webinar” or web seminar; and “zero percent financing” — have all been deleted from the LSSU dictionary.