Let's Unpack LSSU's List of Banned Words

I have a few favorite days each year: my birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, baseball's Opening Day, and the day Lake Superior State University (LSSU) releases their annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

That's also New Year's Day, which is another favorite day. In fact, that day is a two-fer: First, it's a brand new start for a brand new year, and second, I get to feel a sense of moral superiority for just a brief and shining moment.

This year, the 43rd annual Banished Words list was released right on time, and I'm covering it for the thirteenth year in a row.

More than 900 items were submitted for consideration by people who love language and hate to see it abused. Then an LSSU editor unpacked the list and came up with the terms we should all stop using this coming year.

Except we can't say unpacked anymore, since that actually made it to the top of the list. Calling it a "misused word for analyze, consider, (or) assess," LSSU said that positions are not packed, so they don't need to be unpacked. I don't blame them, I hate the word. People use it when they want to sound deep and thoughtful.

Try a little experiment the next time you want to say "unpack."


There, doesn't your life feel much richer and fuller?

"Unpack" is one of those words used by people who sit in a chair backward and want to "unpack" why you want to poke them in they eye. Then they want to "dialogue" about their feelings. At least they could, until "dialogue" was banned in 1976 and "dialoguing" was banned in 1999.

That's right, LSSU has kept track of all their banned words going all the way back to their first list, including "dialogue," so let that sink in.

Er, wait. Let that sink in was banned because, well, it's just annoying. It's the final stinger on a statement of fact that's supposed to amaze or shock us, or make us clutch our hearts as we feel death's cold hand. Like when someone says,"Thirty years ago, John McClane threw his wife's new Rolex out of the Nakatomi Building. Let that sink in. #DieHard"

(I always wondered what happened to her watch after that.)

Still, it's not as annoying and overused as covfefe. This garbled piece of nonsense was typoed into existence by the egomaniac-in-chief who, even though he clearly made a mistake, couldn't bring himself to admit it.

In fact, he dug in his tiny heels and tried to convince us it was one of those "best words" he bragged about on the campaign trail. Meanwhile his supporters contorted themselves into a Gordian knot trying to explain what the word means. Now it's used as both an insult and rallying cry for haters and supporters, and no one can make the other side see how stupid or brilliant the word is.

Instead, it has become fake news, which is now another banned word, thank God.

If it hadn't been banned this year, I would have given up on the list forever. Before 2016, "fake news" used to be just that: news that was absolutely incorrect or made up. They were the stories you saw in the supermarket checkout lines or on your racist cousin's favorite websites.

Now, it's used to dismiss stories that might reveal lies, errors, or treasonous meetings with a foreign government that wanted to destroy our country just 28 years ago. By calling something they don't like as "fake news," politicians can force journalists to defend themselves rather than actually report on the politicians' lying, cheating, and overall dishonesty.

When it comes to owning up to their own sleaziness, politicians want us to think it's all a big ol' nothingburger. Except LSSU banned the word saying "says nothing that 'nothing' doesn't already." It's another of those words that was born on the 2016 campaign trail to gaslight yet another of Trump's many lies or misstatements — is that what a covfefe is? — and got overused by the rest of the country. I've tried to avoid using it or even overhearing it. I've done pretty well, but then again, I don't read tons of political commentary either.

Finally, there's onboarding, a marketing jargon word I have fought against ever since I saw a website brag that "we offer frictionless onboarding."

"What's that mean?" I asked the guy who wrote the copy.

"Signing up is easy," he said.

"Then why don't you say that?"

He argued with me for 20 minutes about why this was "more accurate" and a better way to say it because people would understand it.

I told him, "when I got my 70-year-old mother to sign up for Facebook, she didn't ask me, 'do they have frictionless onboarding?'" She wanted to know if signing up was easy." He had nothing to say in response.

Huh. I finally won an argument. Let that sink in.

Photo credit: Emily Allen (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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