Opinion: With apologies to George Carlin, here are seven words they can’t say at the CDC

The Trump administration is channeling George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television." It has banned seven words and phrases from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's budget-planning documents.
(Ed Bailey / Associated Press)

Comedian George Carlin famously crafted a routine around “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” a piece so far over the line for a newspaper that you’re just going to have to look it up yourselves. But the Trump administration has gone one better and has listed seven words and phrases the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now banned from using in budget documents.

The words, according to the Washington Post? Vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based.

Are your tender ears burning?

It’s as though Trump officials think eradicating the words can make the concept disappear.


The reason is murky. The Washington Post reported that CDC policy analysts were given the warning during a meeting Thursday but not given an explanation (or at least one that was passed along to the Post). The ban reportedly came from officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC.

It could be that Trump administration officials are stepping fully into Totalitarian Lite territory and restricting references to policies to which it objects. Or it could be that career officials, seeing the loony makeup of Congress right now, figure using alternative wording will keep social conservatives from teeing off on specific programs when it comes time to slash funding.

Regardless, it’s another irritating turn from an administration led by a man to whom lying and obfuscation is second nature.

HHS described the Post’s report as a “mischaracterization” of what happened at the meeting, but the statement didn’t clear anything up, or specifically deny that the words are now banned.

“The assertion that HHS has ‘banned words’ is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process,” it said. “HHS will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”

According to the Post:

“The question of how to address such issues as sexual orientation, gender identity and abortion rights — all of which received significant visibility under the Obama administration — has surfaced repeatedly in federal agencies since President Trump took office. Several key departments — including HHS, as well as Justice, Education, and Housing and Urban Development — have changed some federal policies and how they collect government information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.”


Remember, this is the administration that also is scrubbing climate-change references from official government websites, too.

It’s as though Trump officials think eradicating the words can make the concept disappear. And there is a certain appeal to that. Like, if we could just stop saying, “Trump administration,” and make it go away.

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