Harley Hay

Hay’s Daze: What’s in a word?

What’s in a word? Good ole Bill Shakespeare posed that question in 1597 when he had his lovely character Juliet wonder if a “rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

She wasn’t really thinking about smelling roses, of course, she was thinking about how Romeo’s last name (Montague) was hateful to her family on account of the feud and how if his name was, say, Stottlemeyer or maybe, Pumpernickle, he’d still be the same old Romeo and she wouldn’t be expected to hate him and his tight pants. (All the guys wore spandex back in the 16th century.)

Words. You can’t live with ‘em and you can’t live without ‘em. Or maybe that’s a famous axiom that insecure misogynists say about women. Thing is, it would be virtually impossible to imagine a world without words. Or women, for that matter.

However, as William famously quoted: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Not that William (referenced above), this was William Schatsnider, a plumber from Manchester, and he has been proven completely wrong since the dawn of man. Ever since the first caveman grunted a searing personal insult at his cavemate and really hurt his feelings.

And in that vein (not “vain” which is grammatically called a homonym or possibly a hematoma) some people think that some words (such as “vain”) should not be used anymore. Some think that there are too many words that are not only confusing but more importantly, overused, misused or just plain useless. In fact, there’s a University in the States that takes this view so seriously it has published an Annual List of Banished Words every year since 1976.

So guess what theme the hated words centered around this year: Spandex pants.

Just kidding about the pants, and, surprisingly, it wasn’t concerning an American pomposity who likes to wear a red hat with a word on it that isn’t a word, and say relentlessly stupid words on Twitter. No, it was the insipid Covid-19 virus that got the attention of the Lake Superior State University in Michigan and their 2020 List of Banished Words.

The uni takes submissions every year for words and phrases to be banned (they received more than 1,450 nominations in 2020) and the Banished Words List committee noted that around 250 hated terms concerned Covid. In fact, according to their website seven of their official list of the ten most “overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, clichéd, illogical, nonsensical and otherwise ineffective, battling, or irritating words” had to do with the damn-demic.

So what made the list? “Social distancing” was right up there, as was “in an abundance of caution” and “in these uncertain times.” Then there’s “unprecedented” and, of course, “coronavirus.”

The listmakers admit to having their tongues firmly in their cheeks when they make their yearly list, which in the past has included: “absolutely,” “BFF” and “yuh know,” but when it comes to Covid the members say, “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.”

So what would be your choice for banished words this year? I think swear words are out of contention for prevention since even the tamest of TV shows and movies are now positively rank with four-letter bombs these days. But maybe you’re getting a little sick of hearing “the new normal” or “flatten the curve” or “of course I can go on holidays at Christmas, I’m a politician!”?

Me? I think I’d vote for the words “twenty twenty.” Maybe that will help me forget it ever happened.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker.

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