Why We "Banish" Words : Blog Of The Nation What makes us want to ban overused words like "viral" and "epic"? Jan Freeman of The Boston Globe says it all began with newspapers devising their own lists of taboo words for journalists.
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Why We "Banish" Words

How many times have you heard the viral video called "Keyboard Cat" referred to as "epic"? budcaddell/flickr hide caption

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How many times have you heard the viral video called "Keyboard Cat" referred to as "epic"?


"Hey, did you see that epic viral videoFacebooked you? Fail. Why don't you man up and Google it then? I'm just sayin', I thought we were BFFs and all."

Does that quote sound familiar? Well, I made it up, but I'm sure you can find some red flags in the mix -- perhaps some overused and tattered flags from last year.

For over 40 years, Lake Superior State University in Michigan has been dishing out a list of words and phrases to be banned. The ones in bold from the lines above made the list.

We actually had a show about the most used words, phrases, and names of last year, which is tracked by a Texas-based company called The Monitor. Ironically enough, many of the words on both lists cross paths.

But how did we come to dislike words enough to banish them altogether?

Jan Freeman, who writes "The Word" column for The Boston Globe, states one possible reason in her latest piece:

It all began, apparently, in the second half of the 19th century, when newspapers first compiled lists of taboo words for their own use. Journalists, of course, do have to follow house style and to avoid words their bosses deem “overworked.” It’s not clear that the average citizen has to be quite so vigilant, but usage advice was a booming genre at the time. Editors, teachers, and opinionators of all stripes found an audience eager to hear their rules and prejudices.

Perhaps the most fascinating part is the fact that Freeman took the time to find some of the words that were banished in the early party of the 20th Century. For example, "In the 1920s, absolutelydynamicmodern, and propaganda all made someone’s 'overworked' list. Forty years later, words like "glamourbreakthrough, and significance were called overexposed."

In the world of radio, we're always trying to avoid dime a dozen words or phrases, like "if you've been on the Internet in the past year or so," or, more recent months "shellacking." But there's a catch-22 to our banishing system, as Freeman notes:

Labeling a locution “overworked” is shady in the same way: At one stroke, you condescend to others who employ it, blame lesser writers for having worn it out, and still enjoy the convenience of using it yourself. It’s a neat trick, pretending you haven’t actually “used” that hackneyed expression. But after 150 years, the ploy itself may be getting a bit threadbare.

What were some of the most overused words you heard last year? Do you tend to banish words from your vocabulary?