2021 Banished Words List
2021 Banished Words List Press Release
COVID-19 Terminology Tops Lake Superior State University’s Annual Banished Words List
Just in Time for the Vaccination Rollout
Dec. 31, 2020
Enough already with COVID-19!
People across the U.S. and around the world let Lake Superior State University know that they’re tired not only of the coronavirus pandemic but also of hearing, reading, and talking about it—especially when the communication is bad or excessive.
COVID-19 terminology monopolized submissions for LSSU’s annual Banished Words List this year. Out of 1,450-plus nominations, upwards of 250 of the words and terms suggested for banishment for overuse, misuse, or uselessness relate to the coronavirus. In fact, seven of the 10 words and terms that LSSU is banishing for 2021 are about it.
Ranked No. 1 to get rid of is what started of all this: “COVID-19” itself.
“It should surprise no one that this year’s list was dominated by words and terms related to COVID-19,” said Peter Szatmary, executive director of marketing and communications. “LSSU’s Banished Words List has reflected signs of the times since debuting in the mid-1970s, and the zeitgeist this year is: We’re all in this together by banishing expressions like ‘We’re all in this together.’ To be sure, COVID-19 is unprecedented in wreaking havoc and destroying lives. But so is the overreliance on ‘unprecedented’ to frame things, so it has to go, too.”
LSSU has compiled an annual Banished Words List since 1976 to uphold, protect, and support excellence in language by encouraging avoidance of words and terms that are overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, clichéd, illogical, nonsensical—and otherwise ineffective, baffling, or irritating. Over the decades, LSSU has received tens of thousands of nominations for the list, which now totals more than 1,000 entries. This year, nominations came from most major U.S. cities and many U.S. states, as well as from Australia, the Czech Republic, England, and Canada. Here are the list of the banished words and terms for 2021 and the reasons for their banishment:
1. COVID-19 (COVID, coronavirus, Rona)
A large number of nominators are clearly resentful of the virus and how it has overtaken our vocabulary. No matter how necessary or socially and medically useful these words are, the committee cannot help but wish we could banish them along with the virus itself. Coincidentally, this list arrives as does a vaccine—the committee hopes this proves a type of double whammy.
2. Social distancing
This phrase is useful, as wearing a mask and keeping your distance have a massive effect on preventing the spread of infection. But we’d be lying if we said we weren’t ready for this phrase to become “useless.” With north of 50 nominations, many others clearly feel the same, and the tone of their reasoning ranged from impatient to heartfelt.
3. We’re all in this together
This phrase was likely intended as a way to keep everyone feeling safe and calm at the start of the pandemic. However, as the virus made its way across the globe and nation, it became clear that we are all dealing with COVID-19 in different ways and that we confront some vastly different challenges in coping with it. As with many words that show up on the list, its usefulness has faded.
4. In an abundance of caution (various phrasings)
Yes, humanity needs to follow safeguards during COVID-19. The statistics are sobering: more than 342,000 deaths and more than 19 million confirmed cases in the U.S. and more than 1.8 million deaths and more than 82 million confirmed cases worldwide. But the phrasing about how to take preventative steps is vague. What is the standard measurement for caution, metric or U.S. standard?
5. In these uncertain times (various phrasings)
The committee agrees that COVID-19 has upended everyday life and wishes this weren’t so. But putting things into imprecise context doesn’t help matters. The blur dilutes reality and, to some, sounds like the beginning of a movie trailer. Keep as wide a berth of trite parlance as those who don’t wear masks in public. What exactly does it mean for times to be uncertain? Look at a clock!
Reporters, commentators, talking heads, and others from the media reference how everyone must adapt to the coronavirus through contactless delivery, virtual learning, curbside pickup, video conferencing, remote working, and other urgent readjustments. That’s all true and vital. But basketball players pivot; let’s keep it that way.
It’s unheard of that a word would be repeated on the Banished Words List. Actually, it’s not. In the early years, words wound up repeated, although we try to avoid repetition nowadays. Despite the fact that “unprecedented” was banished in 2002, given that it was nominated many times this year for misuse in describing events that do have precedent, inclusion again seems warranted.
2021 Banished Words and Terms Not About COVID-19:
What began as an anti-racist critique of the behavior of white women in response to Black and Brown people has become a misogynist umbrella term for critiquing the perceived overemotional behavior of women. As one nominator said about reasons for its banishment, “I would tell you why, but I’d sound like a Karen.” Another critic observed, “Offensive to all normal people named Karen.”
It’s a shortened version for “suspicious” in the video game Among Us. No committee members play, but our children who do explained that this multiplayer online social game is designed around identifying “sus” imposters so they can be “thrown into the lava.” Complainers a) ask: How much effort does it take to say the entire word; and b) request: If that can’t happen, confine the syllable to the gaming world.
10. I know, right?
An amusing phrase flooding social media, “I know, right?” is a relatively new construction to convey empathy with those who have expressed agreement. But as one wordsmith put it, if you know, why do you need to ask if it’s correct or seek further approval? Another grammarian suggested that the desire for confirmation connotes insecurity. In other words, it’s reiterating something already seconded.
“Real-world concerns preoccupied word watchdogs this year, first and foremost COVID-19, and that makes sense,” said LSSU President Dr. Rodney S. Hanley. “In a small way, maybe this list will help ‘flatten the curve,’ which also was under consideration for banishment. We trust that your ‘new normal’—another contender among nominations—for next year won’t have to include that anymore. ”
Banished Words Archive
The History of Word Banishment
In 1976, the late and ingenious Lake Superior State University Public Relations Director W.T. (Bill) Rabe released the first tongue-in-cheek “banished words list” as a safeguard against misuse, overuse, and uselessness of the English language—and as an imaginative publicity stunt. National and international reaction from the news media and the general public was so enthusiastic that Rabe predicted the Banished Words List, as he put it, “would go on forever.”
Forever may be stretching it, but the annual Banished Words List shows no signs of stopping. Over the decades, people across the U.S. and around the world have nominated tens of thousands of words and phrases that bother them for banishment. Examples of the 1,000-plus entries to make the yearly compilation include “detente,” “surely,” “classic,” and “bromance,” plus “wrap my head around,” “user friendly,” “at this point in time,” and “viable alternative.”
The lighthearted Banished Words List began as a promotional ploy for little-known LSSU. The university was established in 1946 as a branch of Michigan College of Mining and Technology for returning World War II veterans. Lake Superior State College became autonomous in 1970 and developed into Lake Superior State University in 1987. Signature programs now include fisheries and wildlife management, engineering, nursing, criminal justice, business, robotics engineering, and fire science. In 2019, LSSU launched the first cannabis chemistry program in the nation. LSSU also was the first campus nationwide to offer an accredited four-year fire science program; it is one of three in the U.S. LSSU was the first campus nationwide to offer an accredited four-year robotics engineering technology program and is the only university nationwide to offer undergraduate education in industrial robotics.
The charm of the Banished Words List grew out of the enchantment of an earlier creation by Rabe: Unicorn Hunters. Upon arriving to LSSU in 1971, Rabe, who had earlier made a name for himself as a PR guru in Detroit, realized that the school was still largely thought of as an offshoot of Michigan Tech, if known at all. To help rectify that, he, along with English Department professors, founded a group who quested the legendary horned creatures. The Unicorn Hunters garnered all sorts of positive attention over the years from media and devotees alike until LSSU’s Unicorn Hunters retired with Rabe in 1987—although the university continues to grant unicorn hunting licenses to anyone who wants one through its singular Department of Natural Unicorns.
From Rabe and associates and LSSU’s Unicorn Hunters sprung all sorts of other serious play, original ideas, and clever initiatives, including two that also continue to this day: an annual Snowman Burning the first day of spring since 1971, given the voluminous snowfall in the Upper Peninsula—and the world-famous Banished Words List, announced at the end of each year a) because that’s often a slow-news period, as Rabe, a former newspaperman, knew, and b) so that people start the New Year on the right foot, er, tongue.
The first list was dreamed up by Rabe and friends at a New Year’s Eve party in 1975. The following day, he released the list. After Rabe retired, the university copyrighted the concept and continued the idiosyncratic serious play. Rabe’s brainstorms resulted in three interlinked and now spun-off traditions: Unicorn Hunters, which gave rise to Snowman Burning and Banished Words.
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