Friday, January 1, 2010

The Lexical Equivalent of "Off With His Head?"

January 1st. The very first day of a brand new year. A clean slate. A fresh start.

And, reasoned the PR department of Lake Superior State University, what better day to unleash a slew of words from the previous year that have, shall we say, out-lived their usefulness? Such was the thinking of the university's former Public Relations Director, Bill Rabe, and his colleagues, way back in 1975.

While gathered at a holiday party on December 31st of that year, Rabe and company came up with a whole host of words which had frequently appeared in media outlets and were endlessly spouted from thousands of lips, to the great chagrin of the partygoers. So, they compiled the lot into a "List of Words to be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-use and General Uselessness," the goal of which was to purge said words from common usage and "out of public memory." The fruits of their labors ended up distributed by Rabe on New Year's Day, 1976. And so it was that January 1st has come to be known to many logophiles as New Year's Dishonor List Day.

The List was so popular in its inaugural year that LSSU decided to make it an annual New Year's Day tradition. Though Rabe retired in 1987, The List has lived on, catching yearly attention from such diverse outlets as The New York Times,,, and a fair amount of bloggers (including the likes of Library Boy and, ahem, me) as well as garnering thousands of submissions each year to LSSU's PR department. In fact, January 1, 2010 marks the 35th anniversary of the List's publication.

What kinds of words make the cut? According to the university's website, "Word enthusiasts target pet peeves from everyday speech, as well as from the news, education, technology, advertising, politics, sports and more." Some samples from 2009's list:
  • green
  • carbon footprint
  • maverick
  • bailout
  • iconic
  • staycation
  • game changer
  • desperate search

To add to the fun, readers can submit comments for any of the words on the list. For example, concerning this 2009 entry:
(a combination of characters meant to resemble a sideways heart, and which means "love" in text-speak), Andrea Estrada of Chicago had this to say:

Just say the word instead of making me turn my head sideways and wondering what "less than three" means.

If you're wondering about words that made the cut in previous years, the university has you covered there, too, with a Banishment Word List Archive that stretches all the way back to that original 1976 list. And for those wishing to search for a particular word, there is a handy Complete List of Banished Words, presented alphabetically, with a link next to each word that will take you to its corresponding banishment year list.

So, what words were folks sick of hearing/reading/seeing in 2009? Find out by visiting the 2010 List of Words to Be Banished. While you're there, you can submit your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Hoping to make your own lexical contribution to the list? It's too late to get your two cents in for the 2010 edition - submissions are accepted all year long, and then a committee makes a "final cut" in late December for inclusion in the New Year's Day list. But, it's not too early to get your submission in for 2011's List of Words to be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-use and General Uselessness. Contributions can be made by either clicking the following: Submit a Word to Banish, or by emailing your submission to:

Enjoy the day, Word Enthusiasts!

New Year's Dishonor List Day (HubPages article by Brandon De Hoyos)


  1. As much as I may be sick of a lot of those words, sadly, I think they are here to stay.

  2. Great post, Kim. I love words. And I love the fact that the English language is alive and always changing. But I agree that some of those newer made-up words like "staycation" need to be muffled and shoved in a closet. They can continue to exist, but I don't want to hear them. And that sideways <3 thingie. That too. Ugh. Shove that in there.

    Happy New Year! Weird. The word verification I got is a REAL word: hyper.


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