A few words about ‘banned’ words

Published 10:50 pm Wednesday, January 9, 2013

By Kermit Hobbs

There’s one thing I look forward to each year, right after the New Year’s holiday.

I’m not talking about cleaning up the decorations and getting things around the house back to normal, which I also enjoy. I’m talking about the kick I get out of reading the annual list, published by Michigan’s Lake Superior State University, of words they feel should be banned from the English language.

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It makes me feel a little bit of pride when I read that people, whom I consider to be “intellectuals,” feel the same way I do about some words.

This year’s list included some I thought were right on target.

“Kick the can down the road” is not a word, of course; it’s a metaphor. But it’s one that I find particularly obnoxious. I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but the first time I heard it, President Obama was speaking about Congress’ inability to agree on a budget. When he first used the phrase, I didn’t know what he meant. I had to listen a few more seconds and put it into context to get its meaning. It means putting off making an important decision until a later time.

At any rate, it seems that politicians, in particular, have adopted the phrase and have been “kicking the can down the road” ever since. Maybe the reason I find this phrase so irritating is that I so dislike what it stands for.

The term “fiscal cliff” has also become an annoyance to me, but I have to admit the term has served a reasonable function. Whenever it has been used, most of its listeners understood that it described the economic situation we faced as we approached the end of the year 2012. I genuinely hope that since we have passed that point on the calendar, the term “Fiscal Cliff” can be filed away with other obsolete terms.

There are some words on the list that I don’t feel should be there. One I regretted seeing was the word “passion.” I think “passion” and “passionate” are perfectly legitimate words. Furthermore, they describe positive qualities in people. I think it is a good thing for people to have a strong commitment toward something — anything — that motivates and drives them to action. Indeed, I sometimes think we need more of it. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I like to think I am “passionate” about proper use of the English language.

The problem with “passion” is that the word has been overused. Maybe some people have so little motivation that anything that strikes their fancy is considered a passion. I don’t know. In any case, it’s the user’s fault, not the word’s fault.

Speaking of overused words, my all-time favorite was at the top of last year’s list. It’s the word Amazing. If you ever have your TV tuned to a talk show, you won’t have to wait long for one of the people to tell you that something is amazing. If Martha Stewart is on there, she’s going to tell you how amazing her recipe is going to be. I even heard a guest on one of the shows tell the host that she and her fiancé were planning an “amazing” honeymoon.

Now let me get this straight. According to my dictionary, the word “amaze” means to overwhelm or surprise someone. If it hasn’t happened yet and the person who is amazed is the one who is planning it, how can they be amazed? I wish the Lake Superior State University’s banned list had some teeth in it.

There is one more observation I’d make about this year’s list. I confess that I had never heard of the term “YOLO.” I correctly guessed that it was an acronym for some texting phrase, but I don’t text enough to be fluent in such abbreviations. I later learned that YOLO meant, “You only live once.” I don’t feel so bad about not knowing that one. I’m learning, though.

BTW, I just recently got my first smart phone. I have to say that I’ve been missing a lot. I’ve been amaz… Well, I’ve been very impressed at how much I’m learning from it.

O. Kermit Hobbs Jr. is an accomplished Suffolk historian and businessman. Email him at khobbs5@aol.com.