Around the world, vaccines are being rolled out to battle the coronavirus. And while researchers hope to get rid of the disease itself, the wordsmiths at Lake Superior State University are working to remove any trace of it from the English language.
A Banished Words List committee at the university received 1,450 nominations of words that weary folks are ready to outlaw—and about 250 of them had to do with the virus.
COVID-19 topped the list. Other proposed banned phrases include social distancing and we’re all in this together. In fact, seven of the 10 words on the light-hearted list are connected to the virus. Unprecedented, which was comically banished back in 2002, made the list again.
“To be sure, COVID-19 is unprecedented in wreaking havoc and destroying lives,” Banished Words List committee members say, employing another word from the list in humorous irony. “But so is the overreliance on unprecedented to frame things, so it has to go too.”
Lake Superior State University has compiled the list each year since 1976. Committee members say their goal is 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.”
Nominations for unfavorite words come from across the United States and a number of other countries. Joining past inductees such as absolutely, BFF, and yuh know are the following virus-related banned phrases:
—COVID-19 (COVID, coronavirus, Rona). “A large number of nominators are clearly resentful of the virus and how it has overtaken our vocabulary,” the committee writes. “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.”
—Social distancing. “This phrase is useful, [because] wearing a mask and keeping your distance have a massive effect on preventing the spread of infection,” committee members say. “But we’d be lying if we said we weren’t ready for this phrase to become ‘useless.’”
—We’re all in this together.
—In an abundance of caution (various phrasings).
—In these uncertain times (various phrasings).
—Pivot. Committee members note how many people talk about the need to change at a moment’s notice: “How everyone must adapt to the coronavirus through contactless delivery, virtual learning, curbside pickup, video conferencing, remote working, and other urgent readjustments,” the committee writes. “That’s all true and vital. But basketball players pivot; let’s keep it that way.”
—Unprecedented. As in, this has never happened before. And yet, historians point out, it has, actually, happened before. Just about 100 years ago, there was the Spanish Flu. Before that, the Great Plague, and many other pandemics throughout history.
The following three non-virus words/phrases also made the list:
—Karen. Committee members say the name started as a label for angry, privileged, complaining, soccer-mom-type females. Now, they say, it’s become an “umbrella term for critiquing the perceived overemotional behavior of women.”
—Sus, short for suspicious.
—I know, right? This phrases has been around since the late 1980s and means that the speaker agrees with what’s being said.
“Real-world concerns preoccupied word watchdogs this year, first and foremost COVID-19, and that makes sense,” Lake Superior State President Rodney Hanley says. “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.”
I know, right?
(Kellie Johnson, a respiratory therapist, hopes to “flatten the curve” as she receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Flint, Michigan. Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP)