Banished Words List–What Would You Add?

Photo source: Weird Tales
Get your dandruff up?

We all have them: words & phrases that make us wince or groan whenever we hear them. Mine include “snuck,” “anyways,” & “on a daily (hourly, weekly, whatever) basis.” Isn’t it almost a bonding experience when you discover someone shares your bias?


Enter the Banished Words List. The 2017 list, released on  New Year’s Day, includes these words along with comments by the committee that selected them from thousands of nominations:

  • “Get your dandruff up”–The Committee is not sure why this malapropism got nominators’ dander up in 2016.
  • Frankenfruit–another food group co-opted by “frankenfood.” Not to be confused with other forms of genetically modified language.
  • Dadbod–The flabby opposite of a chiseled body male ideal. Should not empower dads to pursue a sedentary lifestyle.
  • 831–A texting encryption of I love you: 8 letters, 3 words, 1 meaning. Never encrypt or abbreviate one’s love.

I can’t say I’ve heard of any of these words, but the list is enlightening.

The Banished Words List began as a publicity gimmick on New Year’s Day 1976. The late W. T. “Bill” Rabe, then publicity director for Lake Superior State University in Michigan, thought the list would help put the little-known school on the map. New Year’s Day made sense as a time to reflect on the past year. Besides it was typically a slow news day.

Of course banishing words is an exercise in futility. Take a look at lists for bygone years, e.g., 2010, which included

  • app
  • sexting
  • tweet
  • friend, as a verb

So what words would you like to add to the Banished Words List? Leave a comment.


Photo source: Weird Tales magazine, September 1941. Photo is adapted from an ad for a Listerine dandruff treatment.


The Promise of a Strong Beginning

Tracy Chevalier has penned an intriguing opening for her latest novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, a book whose subject—Johnny Appleseed and a family of apple growers—might seem less than compelling:

Excerpt: They were fighting over apples again. He wanted to grow more eaters, to eat. She wanted more spitters, to drink. It was an argument rehearsed so often that by now they both played their parts perfectly, their words flowing smooth and monotonous around each other since they had heard them enough times not to have to listen anymore.

What made the fight between sweet and sour different this time was not that James Goodenough was tired; he was always tired. It wore a man down, carving a life from the Black Swamp. It was not that Sadie Goodenough was hung over; she was often hung over. The difference was that John Chapman had been with them the night before. Of all the Goodenoughs, only Sadie stayed up and listened to him talk late into the night, occasionally throwing pinecones onto the fire to make it flare. The spark in his eyes and belly and God knows where else had leapt over to her like a flame finding its true path from one curled wood shaving to another. She was always happier, sassier, and surer of herself after John Chapman visited.

 My take-away: Two people in conflict from the get-go, always a good start. But what lifts this to a masterful level is the language, the metaphor of the fire, and the description of relationships headed for a blow-up.

In the first paragraph, we learn the argument is an old one and in the second what makes the argument different this time. Now jealousy enters the picture. And the last line of that paragraph is a lesson in itself: how to convey that Sadie was attracted to John without using words like “feelings” or a cliché like “she was walking on air.”

Also Chevalier sneaks in back story that manages to keep our focus on the present because her primary purpose in presenting the couple’s history is to sharpen the significance of what’s happening now.

I’ve only started reading this novel so I don’t know how well it fulfills the promise of this powerful beginning. If you’ve read it, please leave a comment.

What Oft Was Thought

“What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed” is how nineteenth-century poet Alexander Pope described “true wit” in “An Essay on Criticism.” So poets & authors strive for the fresh rendering of ideas.

Nothing wads a writer’s undies faster than trying to express  the concept of “romantic love.” One of my favorites is from the song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” featured in the movie The Lion King. Elton John wrote the music & Tim Rice, the lyrics.

Excerpt: It’s enough to make kings & vagabonds believe the very best.

My Take-away: I think volumes could be written about this sentence. First, consider the power in what’s left out. Rice could have preceded it with something like “Love is universal” or “Love is a feeling shared by all.” But simply making “kings & vagabonds” equals in the same sentence, wow! Second, what if he’d said, “. . . everyone from kings to vagabonds . . .?” Wouldn’t that just sap the power of the phrase?

I’m reminded, too, that we enjoy unexpected word pairings. So “cheeseburgers & champagne” tickle our imaginations while “cheeseburgers & Cokes” do not. OK, it’s not the level of “kings & vagabonds,” but you get the idea.

What’s your take-away? Leave a comment.

Hero of Your Own Life?

In response to last week’s post “Memorable Words,” Nancy commented with this quote from David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens: “Whether I will be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anyone else, these pages must show.”

My curiosity piqued, I googled & found an enlightening blog called Quote Investigator whose author, Garson O’Toole, has traced the quote’s pedigree.

The first mention is in 1812 (Copperfield was published in 1850) in “Voyages and Travels in 1809, 1810, and 1811,” by John Galt. “Every traveller is necessarily the hero of his own story, especially if he travels alone. If he has the felicity of a companion the unavoidable egotism is obscured by the use of the social pronoun.”

John Barth used the “hero” concept as the basis of “mythotherapy” in his short story, “The Remobilization of Jacob Horner,” & novel, End of the Road, both published in 1958. The doctor explains: “‘In life,’ he said, ‘there are no essentially major or minor characters. To that extent all fiction and biography and most historiography is a lie. Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.'”

My favorite example is from a 1920 editorial about a man accused of one murder confessing to seven. “Whatever we may say, whatever we may think we think, down at the bottom is the fundamental craving that each man must in some way satisfy–the craving to be the hero of his own story. And so, some of us die at the stake for a holy principle and others of us confess to seven murders and 1000 burglaries, and the rest of us find ways equally satisfactory, if less sensational, of making ourselves heroes in our own eyes.”

Speaking of murders, I could easily kill a few hours wandering about the Quote Investigator site. I may need to buy O’Toole’s book: Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.





Memorable Words


Once in a while a passage grabs you and won’t let go. It’s been 20 or more years since I read Harlan Ellison’s short story about the discovery of a one-eyed giant’s body buried in a field. The creature was put on display, & Ellison describes the line of curiosity seekers. Recently I did a quick Google search & found the story,“On the Slab,” which was first published in the October 1981 issue of Omni magazine.

Excerpt: The lines never seemed to grow shorter. The crowds came by the busloads, renting cassette players with background information spoken by a man who had played the lead in a television series dealing with the occult. Schoolchildren were herded past the staring green eye in gaggles; teenagers whose senses had been dulled by horror movies came in knots of five and ten; young lovers needing to share stopped and wondered; elderly citizens from whose lives had been leached all wonder smiled and pointed and clucked their tongues; skeptics and cynics and professional debunkers stood frozen in disbelief and came away bewildered.

My Take-away: The phrase that stuck with me is “. . . elderly citizens from whose lives had been leached all wonder . . .” I shudder to imagine life beyond wonder, but I’ve observed it in eyes that have nothing more they want to see. Ellison’s line made me sad when I first read it, & it still makes me sad.

I’d like to know what lines you find memorable. Leave a comment.

Writer Builds Interest & Trust With “Information Hunger”

leaving-time-picoult“Information hunger” is a term I learned when I taught speech.  It’s a concept you’re undoubtedly familiar with but probably never had a name for. In the broadest sense, it means offering something irresistible to an audience, such “I’m going to tell you about a simple trick for losing ten pounds.” They’re primed to listen. But my favorite way to use information hunger is to plant an idea that raises a question without answering the question. Thinking a ball has been dropped, the audience squirms, figuratively if not literally. Then you answer the question later. It’s a useful technique a speaker or writer can use not only for piquing interest but also for building trust.

In Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult, this happens a number of times. This was the first book I’ve read by this  author so I sometimes wondered if she’d dropped a thread: I’m wondering why the fingernail found at the crime scene isn’t tested, why the man sitting next to Serenity & Virgil acts like they’re crazy.  Picoult comes through and answers the questions in my head. Here’s another example from the book:

Excerpt:  Virgil & Donny are detectives on a case involving an elephant trampling a keeper to death and the disappearance of a second keeper. Virgil  accuses Donny of making a bad call in dismissing the incident as an accident.

“I’m not the one making it,” he said cryptically.

{three pages later}

“What did you mean when you said it wasn’t your call?” . . .

“It’s an election year, Virg. The governor can’t run on a zero-crime platform if the public thinks there’s still a murderer wandering around Boone.” He sighed. “That governor is the same guy who increased the budget for public safety so you could get hired in the first place. So you could protect the community without having to choose between a cost-of-living raise and a Kevlar vest.” He looked directly at me. “Suddenly, doing the right thing isn’t so black-and-white, is it?”

My Take-away:  After the initial encounter, I’m thinking, “Who made the call & why didn’t Virgil press Donny for an answer?” The author gave me the answer three pages later.

Unfortunately this book as a whole did not work for me. I stuck with it for the sake of my book club discussion. Besides being a heavy-handed treatise on elephants’ superiority at mothering and handling grief–and I have to say there are some moving examples–the book had a trick ending. So much for “trust.”

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment.





At a Loss for Words

uvulaEnglish is a funny language. We have words we never use, like the word for the little thing that dangles behind your tongue. It’s called the “uvula.” Have you ever had an occasion to use “uvula” in a sentence? I know this is my first time.

But here we are, a civilization in which family has historically been the bedrock, yet our language is clumsy in the way it handles familial relationships. So we end up having to explain that “My sister-in-law is my brother’s wife” because not to explain leaves the question, well is it your brother’s wife or your husband’s sister?

Similarly, is your uncle your father’s brother, mother’s brother, or the spouse of one of those relatives?

And as I realized in writing my opus in progress, while we have the terms “widow” and “widower,” we have no word for the parent of a deceased child.

Do you know if other languages do a better job of differentiating or naming these relationships? Are there other concepts for which there are no English words? Leave a comment.

Unplugged Gifts for Writers & Readers

gift-geode-bookends-etsy-jpegI realized after compiling this gift list for writers & readers that there’s nothing on it that’s digital or requires a power cord. Hmm. I’m sure that’s significant, but this post isn’t about my psyche.  It’s simply about getting the gift-buying juices flowing. For starters, check out the stunning geode bookends at the AmethyaShop on Etsy.

gift-leather-notebook-amazonHere’s what I want. It’s a leather-bound, refillable journal from Amazon. I really like the closure. This item would be a big improvement over the little spiral notebook which likes to flop open in my purse. How classy is that?

I’m a fan of leather. I’m also a fan of words. In our junk snail mail this week was a pitch for an attractive, not-inexpensive handbag of “premium faux leather.” You gotta love copywriters (I was one once.)

Blog readers Patsy Shepherd & Susan Mayson like the journal gift as well. Patsy suggests printing out a list of suggested books–why not tuck the list inside for a personal touch? Susan would like a fancy pen as well.


T-shirts for writers & readers abound. Check out “I’m a writer. What’s your super power?” from Shirt Candy on Etsy & the “If you walk a mile in my shoes, you’ll end up at the bookstore” from Look Human.


I love the vintage bookplate sets offered by Oiseaux Vintage Paperie on Etsy. Styles are available for kids & adults. I like gifts that say something about the giver as well as the recipient, & I think these bookplates would be a good way to impart your love of books & reading. Take time to browse the extensive selection.


If vintage isn’t your style, at Zazzle you can order personalized bookplates from a selection of designs for both kids & adults.


Ok, this may look crazy, but don’t you get some of your best ideas when you’re in the shower? There’s a reason for that. Just as when you’re falling asleep, waking up, driving a familiar route, or otherwise zoning out, your enter a natural hypnotic state in a relaxing shower. The Eureka Shower Idea Whiteboard on Amazon sticks to your shower wall with suction cups.


gift-book-light-miles-kimballHere’s a cool idea, a hands-free reading light. It’s called a Hug Light, & it looks to me like a big improvement over clip-on reading lights.

You can pose the flexible arms any which way. The promotional copy suggests placing it on a table or anywhere else you need to shine a light.



More stuff:

Where the Wild Things Are tote bag from Out of Print; eBook cover & throws from Huffington Post.

Let’s hear what you’d like to get or give. Leave a comment.


This just in . . .

Select from a variety of covers for the WriteMind Planner.

I was meandering the web & came across another cool gift for the writer on your list, especially someone who’s in the early stages of writing a novel or teetering on the brink of writing one (identifiable because he or she is still fully functional).

It’s the WriteMind Planner from Perry Elisabeth Design. (For you plugged-in writers, this is the anti-Scrivener tool.)

I like the size: 7.25 x 8.75″. It has the advantage of being able to move pages around as with a three-ring binder, but it’s not as bulky. Check out all the features. My favorites include idea pages for characters, settings, story & scenes.

I should credit K. M. Weiland for leading me to this planner. She’s been writing a series to guide people participating in NaNoWriMo.


“Get Over It” With Bibliotherapy

color-purpleAs if you needed another reason to read novels, now there are “therapists” who  will prescribe books to help you get through a rough patch. These “bibliotherapists,” who are not trained professionals, offer services to people who might be struggling with issues such as a career change or a break-up.

I know this because of a Time magazine article, “Read a Novel: It’s Just What the Doctor Ordered,” in the November 7, 2016 issue. Ella Berthoud, an artist, & Susan Elderkin, a novelist, met at Cambridge University where they helped fellow classmates deal with problems by leaving books in brown paper bags outside their dorm room doors.

Now they have clients who fill out a questionnaire about their reading interests & personal challenges & pay $125 to lie on a virtual couch for 50 minutes via phone or Skype. At the end of the session, the therapist “prescribes” books, usually fiction.

Some examples:

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker–for falling out of touch with siblings

Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins–for helping you embrace life

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin–for wishing for a Valentine

The bibliotherapists are capitalizing on something I think a lot of readers have experienced: the healing power of fiction.Let’s hear your thoughts in the Comments.

Slogans Anyone? Candidates’ Battle Cries

bagpiper-graphicSo what’s a “slogan,” anyway? According to Online Etymology Dictionary, the word was first used in the political sense in 1704, borrowed from the Geilic “sluagh-ghairm, ” the battle cry of Scottish Highland or Irish clans.

In this year’s ugly presidential race, we have slogans ranging from Hillary’s bland “Stronger Together” to Donald’s dog-whistling “Make America Great Again.”

You call those battle cries? Take a look at the campaign of 1884 when Grover Cleveland & James Blaine duked it out with attack slogans.

Cleveland went after Blaine for his unethical dealings with the railroad industry: “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the Continental Liar From the State of Maine.”

Here’s Blaine lambasting Cleveland who had fathered a child out of wedlock: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha.”

Seriously I suspect the ugliness of the 2016 campaign will not end with the election results. It’s not news that we’ve become a polarized society, & I suspect there are some fractured families & relationships that might never be repaired.

While I don’t like Hillary, she has my vote–I have ten dollars riding on her, & I fear Donald, a man who delights in stirring up hostilities & whose foundation rests on lies & broken promises. But he seems to have convinced a lot of disenfranchised people that he’s their savior. I feel for those people. They deserve better.

While I have strong feelings, I don’t want those feelings to get in the way of friendship. So I’ll end this post with a slogan of my own: “Let the Healing Begin.”

What are your thoughts?