by Lynn Mandaville
The late W.T. Rabe, a former public relations director at Lake Superior State University, along with fellow faculty and staff, created the first list of words and phrases “that people love to hate” at a New Year’s Eve party in 1975.
That first list of words and phrases to be banished from our vernacular (“The Queen’s English”) was published Jan, 1, 1976, and the list has been an LSSU and Associated Press tradition ever since.
While that first list came from those attending the party in 1975, all finalists have been culled from nominations submitted from all over the country, most submitted to the University’s web site, lssu.edu/banished.
This is the 45th year of publication, and there is no slowing down of submissions from those who find overused, misused, and meaningless words and phrases a bane on their existence.
I admit to having a deep-seated admiration for those who cull through the submissions to select those words I would like never to hear used again.
And I find that I will be submitting my own nominees this year because of the empty, yet inflammatory, words and phrases that are being tossed carelessly around in political discourse without a care in the world that they are both meaningless and injurious.
My first nomination is the phrase Defund the Police.
This expression is so vague as to be the cause of the friction it seeks to eliminate.
Out of the George Floyd murder by former policeman Derek Chauvin came the rousing cry of “defund the police!” But what did it mean to those who first uttered it?
My understanding was, at the time, that defunding the police did not mean to UN-fund police departments, wholesale, across the United States of America. My understanding, at the time, was that some people were calling for the reallocation of SOME police funding to allow police to deal with “traditional” police duties while those diverted funds would go to professionals who could deal with mental health disturbances, rather than foist policing of those incidents onto already overstressed police forces. The hope being that cases of unnecessary force by police would occur less often, especially those cases that resulted in the unnecessary killing of people in mental health crises.
For some people “defund the police” became an intentionally distorted, politicized cry meaning “the left doesn’t believe in law and order!” It became a political slogan of the right to declare that it was open season in the US of A where liberal Americans were concerned. (Which is just plain horse sh*t, in my opinion.)
The phrase defund the police never should have been coined to mean “let’s try to reallocate tax dollars into safer, more productive managing of those people marginalized in our society by virtue of mental health imbalances or disorders.” It’s inaccurate and misleading.
I cannot, for the life of me, come up with a catch phrase that would accurately define the intent of the original concept to assign to other professionals those duties that should never have been foist upon police in the first place. But defund the police is completely insufficient to encompass such a grand idea as reallocating tax dollars to best serve both the public and the police who serve them.
By virtue of its being inaccurate and misleading, it is no longer useful in our modern English usage.
Therefore, the term “defund the police” is my first nominee for banishment in 2022.
My second nominee is the term cancel culture.
Cancel culture is a tidy catch phrase intended to mean a cultural shift in America in which a given group of people seeks to cancel out another group of people any time that given group of people doesn’t like what a specific person or group of people espouses or puts forward or stands for that the first group of people doesn’t like.
We know that people disagree with each other all the time, and people express their desire that such disagreeableness go away. We also know that wishing doesn’t make it so.
That, however, does not indicate an indisputable cultural shift in America to do away entirely with anything and everything that is disagreeable! Yet both liberals and conservatives employ the inflammatory invective “cancel culture” every time someone suggests that a certain custom, practice, person, or expression is not acceptable.
A prime example of this is the current idea that Dr. Seuss is a victim of cancel culture because the estate of Dr. Seuss has decided to quit publication of a few of Seuss’s early works. Another example is that Mr. Potato Head is a victim of cancel culture because the toymaker has chosen to be less gender specific in a new incarnation of the classic toy.
The entire canon of Dr. Seuss remains intact in American society, and Mr. Potato Head toys have not been victimized by wholesale removal and destruction. But those who cry “cancel culture” at these two examples fail to see a similar attempt to silence one of their own, Senator Liz Cheney, as fitting their definition of cancel culture by her removal from her committee seats.
Since the term is only selectively employed by either liberals or conservatives, it fails to have any real definition that can be applied accurately across the board to attempts to undo something a given group doesn’t cotton to.
“Cancel culture” is an expression without any meat to it. It floats on the air like so much gossamer fluff, landing nowhere, lending no context or content to that by which it attempts to become attached.
I have been very careful not to employ cancel culture in my own speech or writing because, though its meaning is vague, it is heard as a term of exclusion, segregation, fascism, or worse.
This phrase, in my opinion, should top the list of words to banish.
More than ever before, our words need to have concrete meaning for accuracy of communication.
Shoddy wordsmithing only contributes to our inability to speak to or hear one another.
We should not abide such terms that mean nothing more than “whatever,” because to do so is to be part of the problem, not the solution.