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University releases top 10 'banished words' for 2021

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Posted at 8:07 AM, Jan 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-01 10:07:08-05

SAULT SAINTE MARIE, Mich. — Lake Superior State University is continuing its annual tradition of collecting "banished words."

"LSSU has compiled an annual Banished Words List since 1976 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," a news release from LSSU explains.

This year's list was compiled from 1,450 nominations. Not surprisingly, words related to COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic dominate the list.

Here's the list of banished words for 2021 and the reasons for their banishment, according to LSSU:

1. COVID-19 (COVID, coronavirus, Rona)

A large number of nominators are clearly resentful of the virus and how it has overtaken our vocabulary. 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. Coincidentally, this list arrives as does a vaccine—the committee hopes this proves a type of double whammy.

2. Social distancing

This phrase is useful, as wearing a mask and keeping your distance have a massive effect on preventing the spread of infection. But we’d be lying if we said we weren’t ready for this phrase to become “useless.” With north of 50 nominations, many others clearly feel the same, and the tone of their reasoning ranged from impatient to heartfelt.

3. We’re all in this together

This phrase was likely intended as a way to keep everyone feeling safe and calm at the start of the pandemic. However, as the virus made its way across the globe and nation, it became clear that we are all dealing with COVID-19 in different ways and that we confront some vastly different challenges in coping with it. As with many words that show up on the list, its usefulness has faded.

4. In an abundance of caution (various phrasings)

Yes, humanity needs to follow safeguards during COVID-19. The statistics are sobering: more than 342,000 deaths and more than 19 million confirmed cases in the U.S. and more than 1.8 million deaths and more than 82 million confirmed cases worldwide. But the phrasing about how to take preventative steps is vague. What is the standard measurement for caution, metric or U.S. standard?

5. In these uncertain times (various phrasings)

The committee agrees that COVID-19 has upended everyday life and wishes this weren’t so. But putting things into imprecise context doesn’t help matters. The blur dilutes reality and, to some, sounds like the beginning of a movie trailer. Keep as wide a berth of trite parlance as those who don’t wear masks in public. What exactly does it mean for times to be uncertain? Look at a clock!

6. Pivot

Reporters, commentators, talking heads, and others from the media reference how everyone must adapt to the coronavirus through contactless delivery, virtual learning, curbside pickup, video conferencing, remote working, and other urgent readjustments. That’s all true and vital. But basketball players pivot; let’s keep it that way.

7. Unprecedented

It’s unheard of that a word would be repeated on the Banished Words List. Actually, it’s not. In the early years, words wound up repeated, although we try to avoid repetition nowadays. Despite the fact that “unprecedented” was banished in 2002, given that it was nominated many times this year for misuse in describing events that do have precedent, inclusion again seems warranted.

2021 Banished Words and Terms Not About COVID-19:

8. Karen

What began as an anti-racist critique of the behavior of white women in response to Black and Brown people has become a misogynist umbrella term for critiquing the perceived overemotional behavior of women. As one nominator said about reasons for its banishment, “I would tell you why, but I’d sound like a Karen.” Another critic observed, “Offensive to all normal people named Karen.”

9. Sus

It’s a shortened version for “suspicious” in the video game Among Us. No committee members play, but our children who do explained that this multiplayer online social game is designed around identifying “sus” imposters so they can be “thrown into the lava.” Complainers a) ask: How much effort does it take to say the entire word; and b) request: If that can’t happen, confine the syllable to the gaming world.

10. I know, right?

An amusing phrase flooding social media, “I know, right?” is a relatively new construction to convey empathy with those who have expressed agreement. But as one wordsmith put it, if you know, why do you need to ask if it’s correct or seek further approval? Another grammarian suggested that the desire for confirmation connotes insecurity. In other words, it’s reiterating something already seconded.

Click here to read LSSU's full news release.