Banned Books Week was held around the country last week, celebrating “the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment”. Now, how about holding a Banned Words Week?
The idea is explored in this article by Erin McKean, a lexicographer and founder of Wordnik. As she explains, there’s been a lot of media coverage in the past year about banned words – from the 119 words banned from a Chicago radio station to broadcasters in China being told to use the Chinese equivalents of English-language abbreviations. Whilst books seem to be banned for moral or ideological reasons:
Words, on the other hand, seem just as likely to be banned for being euphemistic, pretentious, or banal as they are for being offensive. The bans are efforts to protect the language as much as to protect young ears. Most of the “official” lists of banned words fall into this category, such as the “Banished Words” list put together every year by faculty and staff at Lake Superior State University in Michigan, which tends towards new tech words, awkward neologisms (often blends of existing words, like staycation), and overused buzzwords (2010’s list included tweet, app, czar, bromance, and teachable moment).
McKean asks if bans are effective. Books that are banned in libraries often see an upsurge in bookstore sales. Is there a word equivalent – does usage increase when a word is banned?