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So, This Year's Banned Words List is Problematic

So, every year, I look forward to Lake Superior State University's List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use, and General Uselessness. But this year is not as emotionally satisfying as past lists.

It has some words that should have been banned years ago, and others that I just don't care about. So I don't feel as emotionally connected to the 41st annual list.

"So" made the list this year, although it's actually the second go-around for the offending utterance. In 1999, it made the list for things like "I am SO tired of you people." And now it's back again for being used at the beginning of sentences. Sort of like I did twice in the first two paragraphs.

I can't figure out when this became a problem. Either I've never really noticed it, or I've been doing it for such a long time, I'm used to it. So, I was pretty surprised when I learned this was a problem for a lot of people. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop it. Some people think starting a sentence with "but" and "and" is a terrible thing. But I've done that several times already. And I'm not going to quit that either.

So there.

We could have a conversation about it, if it will make you feel better. Except LSSU banned "conversation" now. As in "join the conversation," which I hear on NPR call-in shows.

Every day. Every single day.

I'm always encouraged to "join the conversation," because the hosts either can't think of anything else to say, or that phrase was carved into the studio desk with a switchblade.

They tell me I can "join the conversation" on Facebook and Twitter.

Except there's no conversation on Facebook. There's never a real "conversation" on Facebook. Unless it involves shouting one's political opinions, refusing to listen to anyone else, and calling them names when they don't agree with you.

Also, most conversations don't include that one photo of Willie Wonka looking so smug you just want slap him.

"(Conversation) has replaced 'discussion,' 'debate,' 'chat,' 'discourse,' 'argument,' 'lecture,' 'talk'. . . all of which can provide some context to the nature of the communication," said Richard Fry, of Marathon, Ontario. He echoed the sentiments of other submitters who said the term was not only overused, it was used by people who still didn't listen.

That's problematic in a conversation, except LSSU just banned "problematic." The Urban Dictionary calls it "a corporate-academic weasel word;" I think it's just another word for "a problem."

The problem with "problematic" is that people like to use it, and other bigger words, to sound smart. They figure if they can take a short, two-syllable word like "problem," and turn it into a four-syllable word, they must be intelligentatic.

Still, this isn't the big controversial word I hoped it would be. I mean, people may find it slightly annoying, but it's not the hair-grabbing words from the past, like "bae" from last year's list, or 2008's "awesome."

No, the one that makes me want to tear my hair out is "vape" and "vaping," which refer to the act of smoking electronic cigarettes. There's just something about e-cigarettes that I loathe in the first place, partly because people think it's okay to do inside a restaurant because it's "not smoke."

Worse than that, they don't even know how stupid it looks. You wouldn't have seen James Dean on a motorcycle, with a cyborg cigarette hanging from his mouth. James Bond doesn't pull a cigarette case and battery pack from his dinner jacket.

I think LSSU should skip the word, and see what they can do about banning vaping altogether, simply on the grounds that it makes the user look like a clueless dork. (Unless you're one of my friends who vapes. Then you look awesome. Forget I said anything.)

The other problem is that vaping has a low "price point" compared to cigarettes.

What's that? "Price point?" It means "price."

Just like "problematic," "price point" complicates language so MBA squinches can feel good about themselves. "Price" is a very short word: five letters, one syllable, that very clearly means what it said, so someone plopped down a second word that doesn't clarify, doesn't enhance, doesn't do anything useful. It's the middle management of language.

Those are just a portion of LSSU's list of banned words for 2016. And if I missed your favorite word, or you disagree with my support of certain words, I can only offer one response:


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


  1. I love everything about this post. THANKS, Eric, for starting my new year off with a good chuckle.


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