The History of Word Banishment
In 1977, one year after Lake Superior State University Public Relations Director W.T. (Bill) Rabe released the first “banished words list,” he said that the international reaction from news media and the public told him “it would go on forever.”
Forever may be stretching it, but the annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness has been going strong since New Year’s Day 1976 and shows no signs of stopping. People from around the world have nominated hundreds of words and phrases such as “you know,” “user friendly,” “at this point in time,” and “have a nice day,” to be purged from the language.
The tongue-in-cheek Banishment List began as a publicity ploy for little-known LSSU. The University, established in 1946, was opened as a branch of Michigan College of Mining and Technology to make room for returning World War II veterans. Lake Superior State College became autonomous in 1970 and developed into Lake Superior State University in 1987. It has grown from the tiny branch college into an institution offering more than 60 degree programs in fields such as engineering, fisheries and wildlife management, biology, criminal justice, nursing, teacher education and more.
In 1971, Rabe realized that Lake State was still largely thought of as a branch of Michigan Technological University, if it was known at all. To combat this image, he established the mythical Unicorn Hunters, along with events such as the annual Snowman Burning to welcome the first day of spring and, in 1976, the famous list of words.
In order to gain the most media coverage possible, the Banishment List is released each year on New Year’s Day. This is attributed to former newsman Rabe’s knowledge of the press. New Year’s Day is traditionally a slow news day.
The first list was dreamed up by Rabe and a group of friends at a New Year’s Eve party in 1975. The following day, he released the list and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then, nominations for words and expressions to be banished have been invited and accepted throughout the year.
After Rabe retired in 1987, the University copyrighted the concept and continued the tradition. The popularity of the effort shows no signs of dwindling. Hundreds of nominations are received each year, and LSSU Public Relations Office staff conduct dozens of news interviews, largely with radio stations throughout North America and sometimes overseas on all major networks, including Cable News Network, Associated Press, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and more.