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In So Many Words, Here’s a Banned List

Jack Smith,

Lake Superior State College, at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., has come out with its annual list of words and phrases that its banishment committee recommends for banishment from the language.

It banishes words for “mis-, mal-, or over-use,” as well as for general uselessness. (By the way, misuse and overuse are in the dictionary, but I can’t find maluse .)

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Leading the 1989 Dishonor List are catastrophic health insurance and forced relaxation. Nominated for redundancy were pizza pie , pre- planning and wise old adage.

They argue that pizza is the name of that savory dish; that one need not “pre-plan” for one’s funeral and burial, as the cemeteries urge, but merely plan ; that wise old adage is doubly redundant, because adage means a wise old saying. So what wise old adage really means is wise, wise, old, old saying.

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I am not too troubled by wise old adage . I suspect that many wise old adages have just been coined by those who use them, and need to be identified as such. I make them up all the time.

Kari Zipf of Walla Walla, Wash., nominated catastrophic health insurance, complaining that she has no need of insurance for catastrophic health. She doesn’t really want catastrophic health.

Mary Sullivan of Marquette, Mich., recommended banishment of the hideous oxymoron forced relaxation , which she described as a “modern behavior management technique” in which schoolchildren are forced to sit in a chair or lie on the floor for three minutes and 10 seconds without resisting. I wouldn’t ban the phrase; I’d ban the practice.

George Drury of Milwaukee urged banishment of gourmet as an adjective, as in “gourmet meal,” “gourmet’ chef” and so on. “What,” he asked, “or whom, does ‘gourmet-flavor’ cat food taste like?”

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Dave Frownfelder and Mike Clement, Adrian, Mich., radio personalities, recommended the banishment of baby boomers , which they called “a cheap catch phrase for people born during a population explosion not of their own making.”

I agree. I have used baby boomers several times, and always felt that it was a word that inflicted the sins of the parents on their offspring. Out with it.

The committee also banished cul-de-sac as used by real estate developers. Obviously, developers use cul-de-sac because they think it has more class then the graphic dead end .

Attacking a longer phrase, the committee banishes “Total capacity of this room limited to 100 persons,” pointing out that it is doubly redundant. " Total , capacity and limit all have the same meaning.”

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They argue also that this room is unnecessary, since the sign obviously applies to the room it is in. Also persons is superfluous, unless other kinds of animals are expected. All that needs to be said, they say, is “Capacity 100.” Good thinking. But I doubt that the people who write signs can ever be held to such bare simplicity.

The committee also interdicts cold glass of beer , observing “Who cares about the temperature of the glass?”

Unnecessarily pedantic. I have heard hot cup of coffee vilified on the same ground--that it is not the temperature of the cup that is important, but the temperature of the coffee. Nonsense. Hot cup of coffee is idiomatic, and so is cold glass of beer. Anyway, have you ever drunk hot coffee from a cold cup, or cold beer from a hot glass?

As usual, sports jargon was roughly treated. Defense , when used as a verb, as in “Bubba O’Sullivan is a quarterback who is tough to defense,” was banished. “The verb defend is recommended.” Won’t work. That would mean that the quarterback is hard for his backs and linemen to defend against the opposing players. It has to be defend against . Defense is inevitable.

Much worse than this useful jargon, it seems to me, are the solecisms sports announcers commit when they are trying to avoid like , having been told by Ed Newman that “Winstons taste good, like a cigarette should” is bad English.

I actually heard one of our better sportscasters, obviously trying to avoid like (a perfectly good word), say “It looks as if a first down,” and later, evidently sensing that that wasn’t quite right, “It looks to be a first down.”

What he meant, of course, was “It looks like a first down.”


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