My annual list of Banished Year-End Promotional Exercises

Our blogger takes issue with the 2009 banished word list’s inclusion of Tweet, bromance and friend as a verb

I’m actually rather fond of Lake Superior State University’s annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness. The list is an endearing ironic reminder of our language’s indispensable freedom from strangulating academic authority. Nobody, thank God, can really “banish” English words, as the folks at LSSU know. And they know, too, that if there were scholars or philologists who had that power, they certainly wouldn’t be teaching at something called “Lake Superior State University”.

But every year, without fail, LSSU crucifies a few innocents. “Tweet”, for example, is included on this year’s list for just one explicit reason: people who don’t tweet are tired of hearing about Twitter. Unfortunately, there’s no alternative term for Twitter messages, which are an actually existing, clearly definable thing for which we do need a descriptor. It is too late, as it is with “blogs”, to insist that a more dignified term should have been chosen. The word “tweet” is in no sense ever mis-used, nor it is either over-used or useless. LSSU and the amateur pedants who contribute to the Banished List have it on there only because they don’t like Twitter. That’s not a language-usage argument; it’s obnoxiousness.

The Banishers also complain about the use of “friend” (and “unfriend”) as a verb; one correspondent, so self-evidently an old fart you can smell the stale methane from here, suggests replacing it with “befriend”. This bespeaks a complete misunderstanding of why people found a need to make “friend” a verb in the first place. We say “I befriended him” when we have actually become real-life friends with somebody; to “friend” a person is something very different—it means you are designating him a “friend” on a social-networking service. This distinction is useful, and no one who uses “friend” as a verb is ever confused about what he is doing. Even the stupidest speakers don’t actually use “friend” to mean “befriend”, and lots of us have electronic “friends” who aren’t friends in the primary meaning of the word.

In general, the 2009 list seems to compare unfavourably to its predecessors; one wonders if they are losing the plot a little over there in the Soo. “Teachable moment” may be a banishably mangled cliché, but whoever wrote dismissively that “it might otherwise be known as ‘a lesson’” doesn’t belong anywhere near a usage committee, even a toy usage committee. The phrase refers to an opportunity for a lesson. The whole point is that the opportunity to teach one may be missed.

And are people really so fed up with the word “bromance”? It enjoyed a certain vogue this year around the time I Love You, Man was released, but the movie and the word were popular because they nailed down a phenomenon for which we didn’t really have an up-to-date English vocabulary before. Am I the only one who thinks it would be helpful if we did have a nuanced vocabulary for talking about non-erotic same-sex friendships? “Bromances” are a genuine variety of human emotional experience! Not having a word for them a bit like not having a word for “purple”! Why are the Banishers being dinks about this?




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My annual list of Banished Year-End Promotional Exercises

  1. I prefer broner to bromance myself – just as a word, not as a feeling.

    • "broner" is a pretty damn uncomfortable term to discuss a non-erotic same-sex relationship between two men….

      • Actually, I think it's meant to describe just the action of getting a…you know…unintentionally from another male, so it's a very specific term. I guess bromance is more of an all-encompassing term, eh?

        • Heh heh, I think getting a "you know" from any person male or female, when in person (and not from porn), is unintentional to begin with, so your new word may be a bit redundant… :^)

          • Hmm….that's a good point. But I think that the term can still be used, very specifically, for a male-caused accidental 'you know'. Especially since there's a somewhat different feeling that comes with such an arrival when generated from another guy – if you're heterosexual at least – than with a gal. :)

          • The word you are both looking for is 'erection.' It's ok, say it all together now….

  2. I'm annoyed at the listing of "app".

    "Application" has been used to refer to non-system computer programs for at least forty years, and the "app" abbreviation has been used for twenty-five. It's far, far too late to complain about it now. You have to try to strangle terms in the crib, or at least before they go to kindergarten; when they're waving a brand new J.D., it's too late.

    • Its annoying to me that people seem to think that it refers specifically to mobile applications. It annoys me even more that there may be a definition shift going on for the word. Thanks Apple! You took an abbreviation that software geeks (and I include myself as one) that have been using for years and brought it to the attention of the population at large. I think it was a calculated move since "App" is also conveniently part of the company's name. I have read plenty of news articles and columns which seem to imply that Apple invented the term, and that it refers specifically to mobile applications. The beauty and ugliness of the English language is that it is allowed to evolve. I really think that "App" will come to mean "mobile application" someday soon. I will try force myself to get used to it. I am still having trouble getting used to the current usage of "Red Tory", so it will take some work!

      • Those who credit the term to Apple should have a complete OED dropped on their heads. Twice.

      • I agree with you regarding the use of the word Tory, however, I disagree with your approach. The correct approach is counter-revolution. Red Tories as socially moderate Conservatives is, if anything the reverse of the actual meaning of the word. Its misuse is harmful to our understanding of history – it misses the actual dynamic of political conflict in this country pre-1984. Many of our Tories were big government nation-builders, and it was the Liberals who were the small-government beancounters. Moreover, it deprives us of a distinctly Canadian kind of ideology – one that supports the welfare state not out of Marxism, but out of a sense of noblesse oblige and perhaps a fear of revolution. We Canadians are not American-style classical liberals, nor European-style socialists; we are Tory-touched liberals.

  3. "…they certainly wouldn't be teaching at something called “Lake Superior State University”.' And just who the hell are you, Colby Cosh? Almost certainly if you were a half-decent author you wouldn't be writing for a rag called "Macleans.ca."

    The underlying point of these collections of words illustrates how lazy and impatient many people have become, to the point where they will not take a brief moment to adequately articulate their ideas. Case in point: your use of "stupidest" rather than "most stupid" (never mind the poor quality of that whole sentence), and "dink" rather than anything more appropriate for publication. Is your editor still on vacation?

    This entire article is asinine. You're exactly the kind of person the LSSU banished words list is trying to persuade to make better user of the English language. An apathetic approach to language leads to difficulty forming and expressing ideas, which leads to ignorance.

    As an author you have a responsibility to be proactive about the proper use of language.

    • I don't think the list is trying to persuade anyone to do anything. What with being a list and all.

      What was your point about expressing ideas again?

      • P.S.: I could have been a dink and pointed out "make better user of the English language" too. But I didn't, largely due to apathy.

        • Give him a break, his editor's probably still on vacation.

    • The point I take from Cosh's article – and I may be wrong – is that there are words and phrases worth picking on, and words for which we don't really have much of a choice. "Friend" (for example) may be yet another verbal noun that linguists lament, but really, "befriend" belies a relationship that a lot of Facebook "friends" just don't have.

      …And on that note: that's what she said.

    • I can't believe you wrote that rant and then you finished it off with the most irritating word of all: "proactive". People should be shot for using that excuse for a word.

      Also, this sentence is a disaster: "You're exactly the kind of person the LSSU banished words list is trying to persuade to make better user of the English language"

      I'm thinking you've written a bit of satire.

    • Mr. Webster,

      I rather thought you were on the right track in 1961 with your "Third New International" dictionary which was the final nail in the coffin of prescriptive lexicography. (It was Merriam Webster who dared to print "ain't" with impunity.)

      Or are you a short black kid recently adopted by a jolly white family?

    • Please learn to distinguish between an actual article and a blog post. And are you angling for tenure at LSSU or what?

    • "Case in point: your use of "stupidest" rather than "most stupid"

      Is this supposed to be ironic?

      Almost certainly if you were a half-decent author you wouldn't be writing for a rag called "Macleans.ca."

      You should see the rags he used to write for.

  4. Surprised they didn't ban "iconic" until just last year.

    Better late than never I guess, though it seems to have had little effect.

  5. I didn't know what bromance was supposed to mean until now, I thought it must have a brokeback mountain angle to it.

    • Me either, and I must say if the term is to be used for two heterosexual buddies, it doesn't do the job well at all.

  6. Lighten up, Colby. It's lighthearted social commentary. Some of us who don't live in our mothers basement bemoan a world where "friend" is a verb and "tweet" is ubiquitous. As you say, they do fill a void inthe language. The good news is, in English — unlike especially French — no one seriously thinks they can prescribe what we say, or in what order, or with what sized letters.

    • Surely the beaten-to-death "mother's basement" joke has appeared on one of these lists by now? Talk about ban-worthy.

  7. If "bromance" refers to a romance between two bro's, then it should indeed be banished. The applicable definition of "romance" in Webster's dictionary is "love affair", which is not platonic, and a love affair between two dudes is simply a romance. The "B" is completely superfluous.

    Plus "bromance" is another annoying word mash-up, much like "sexting", which was also banished.

  8. I am an associate professor at Lake Superior State University, and I take offense to this blog. Our power to ban all overused words and phrases remains unquestioned. With the synergy of our faculty, we shall some day regulate any non-traditional language usage. Going forward, our goal is to provide the greatest academic influence in the upper-western Great Lakes area.

    You, Colby Cosh, are exactly the kind of person the LSSU banished words list is trying to persuade to make better user of the English language.

  9. I think of dictionaries (and directed lexicons) as harmful entities. For thousands of years, the English language has evolved organically, rather than being directed centrally. Many words have and will fall by the wayside for the simple reason that we have a boundless propensity to create words, but a rather bounded ability to use them (ie. we can only know so many words, and often use them imprecisely). Dictionaries artificially preserve words that nobody uses – words that, if used, would impede, rather than improve common understanding (which is the point of language). The professors at Lake Superior State University would do well to trust that over time, good words will win out over bad on their merits.

  10. I liked this post, it was very proactive — I may even have to tweet about it!

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