List of Banned Words Constitutes a “Fail”

Apparently, the Lake Superior State University takes pride in its 2011 List of Banished Words, which “refudiates” the top 2010 Shakespearean gems like “viral,” “epic,” and “fail.” Here at Cornell, and doubtless many other places, we share a different opinion on the addition of new words to the English language. Such words are the backbone of current Internet culture. Perhaps the pure linguists at LSSU who condemn such modern innovations should “man up” and face the real world as it is; of course, that suggestion “I’m just sayin’.” My own take is that we, “the American people,” should ignore these superficial laws, and adhere instead to our founding fathers’ vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of “living life to the fullest.”

Not only these, but other core American values such as freedom are contradicted by foolishly restricting the way we use words. Why should we be not allowed to use words in new ways? English, after all, is well known to be a language that grows over time. Why is Shakespeare allowed to add dozens of words to the dictionary, but the entire constituency of the Internet, consisting of millions of highly literate users, not even allowed to add a few definitions to words that are pre-existing? Below are the words in the banlist, and the reasons why each one is perfectly valid in its modern definition:


Meaning in modern culture: adj., the state of having reached a massive Internet audience.

Example: The “2011 List of Banished Words” went viral as it was facebooked 13K times.

Why pure linguists hate it: The new usage corrupts the original definition of the word, which is of or relating to a virus. Something that is viral, according to them, should have to do with biological viruses.

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: An analogy is often the best way to explain an idea. When a virus spreads, the number of people affected goes up. The same happens when certain stories are shared on the Internet. Viral seems to be the most accurate word to describe such a phenomenon.


Meaning in modern culture: adj., very awesome; very amazing

Example: At first I didn’t understand anything about language; then I had that aha moment, and it was like, epic!

Why pure linguists hate it: Epic has become so overused that the standards for something considered epic have been degraded to virtually nothing.

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: What do they want instead? A hierarchy of epicness? Besides, from the way the Internet has used it, “epic” now has a broadened definition. Today, it refers not only to things that are majestic in scope, but also things that are funny, clever, flawless, and generally anything that is well thought-out and well made. There seems to be nothing epic at all about banning words. Well, except…


Meaning in modern culture: adj. or noun, pretty much anything that doesn’t work as planned, or a plan that is extremely flawed.

Example: A: “Did you hear about that politician who said ‘refudiate’ instead of ‘repudiate’?” B: “Yeah, that was an epic fail!”

Why pure linguists hate it: Fail is supposed to be a verb: not a noun, not an adjective.

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: To refuse to use a word is to fail oneself; to force others to refuse it is a fail for mankind. It has become so common a word that it is difficult to see what would happen if it were banned.


Meaning in modern culture: noun, the component of a product that makes it shine.

Example: His latest novel once again has well-developed characters and a meaningful plot, but the wow factor that made it go viral was that the book invented 17 new words, all of which had become commonplace just one year after its publication.

Why pure linguists hate it: Overused; cliché.

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: Again, if it’s used by so many people, there’s gotta be something appealing about it. It’s because wow factor is the most precise and forcible way to describe what it describes. If you substitute it with other phrases such as “what stands out” or “the distinguishing aspect,” you run into other clichés or end up with a wordier phrase.


Meaning in modern culture: noun, the moment when you understand some fact that was previously unclear.

Example: For some reason I had thought for the longest time that Shakespeare was a French epic author; when I finally realized he was English, I had an aha moment in which my linguistics homework made a lot more sense.

Why pure linguists hate it: There’s no real reason people hate it, other than that it isn’t defined in the dictionary.

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: On the original site, someone said: “All this means is a point at which you understand something or something becomes clearer. Why can’t you just say that?” We can, why can’t we just say aha moment?


I have actually never heard this term used before, so I can’t really comment on it. From my research, it seems to just be a portmanteau of background and history. It is still two words though.

7. BFF

Meaning in modern culture: nounBest Friend Forever.

Example: Would you like to meet my new BFF? She has an epic back story.

Why pure linguists hate it: The “forever” part is never true. You can have a BFF for 10 minutes, and then have a different BFF. Which means that person never was a BFF in the first place.

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: Just kidding, I actually agree with the linguists on this one.


Meaning in modern culture: verb, to show stereotypically masculine traits.

Example: After Jim retreated from fighting the grizzly bear with his bare hands, his pals made fun of him, saying “fail,” and told him to man up.

Why pure linguists hate it: It is “bullying and sexist.” (quote from the link)

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: Again, I agree with the linguists. I assure you that the term was used in the introduction only for attention-grabbing.


Meaning in modern culture: verb, to repudiate.

Example: One soldier refudiated the order to man up during a hopeless assault, choosing instead to strategically retreat. She was the only survivor, the only one to live life to the fullest.

Why pure linguists hate it: The word is repudiate, not refudiate. Refudiate is just a slip of the tongue made by Sarah Palin.

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: When you say refudiate, everyone will understand it. The difference is so small that it’s almost like a regional accent. Plus, /p/ and /f/ aren’t TOO different as far as consonants go.


I’ve never even remotely heard of this term, but apparently it has a political back story, so I’ll skip it.


Meaning in modern culture: noun, the American people.

Example: In November 2008, the American people wanted change, not fail.

Why pure linguists hate it: Again, because it’s so overused by politicians.

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: There’s nothing wrong with the phrase. I seriously don’t understand why any person, especially an American, would be against this. The only valid complaint I could find is that the phrase “the American people” lumps all Americans into the same group, implying we all want and do the same thing. This however is a purely semantic issue. Anyone with any intelligence in any field should know that “the American people” is a generalization and not an absolute.


Meaning in modern culture: interjection, what I just said is my honest opinion, but I wish that it not be associated with me in any way. OR, what I just said had nothing to do with what we were saying before, but just pretend that it was related somehow.

Example: A: “I like things viral.” B: “What?” A: “I’m just sayin’.”

Why pure linguists hate it: When formally used, it is a redundancy: of course you just said it!

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: A lot of the time, we engage in casual conversation instead of formal conversation. (And according to sociologists, casual conversation is often more important than formal conversation. I’m just sayin’.) In informal conversation, some phrases are there just for the sake of conversation. If pure linguists want people to stop saying “I’m just sayin’,” they’ll have to get people to stop saying a lot of other things too.


Meaning in modern culture: verbs, to use Facebook/to use Google for something.

Example: I didn’t understand the article she facebooked, so I googled it. Then I had an aha moment.

Why pure linguistics hate it: They hate it in general when people use nouns as verbs. It impacts them so greatly.

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: Actually, according to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), google is a perfectly valid verb meaning to search for information on Google. As for facebook, I’m not quite sure. I still use Facebook only as a noun, but that might soon change. There’s nothing wrong with its being used as a verb.


Meaning in modern culture: verb, to have what you consider an enjoyable and meaningful life.

Example: I first thought of becoming a lawyer, but then I decided that stealing from the American people would be immoral, and that rather, I would live life to the fullest.

Why pure linguists hate it: The phrase is overused, redundant, and senseless.

Why it’s perfectly acceptable: It’s an idiom—it doesn’t need to make literal or logical sense. And of course, “live life” is a redundancy, but it’s eloquent. The verb “live” is more powerful than the noun “life,” but if you just said “live to the fullest,” it would be utterly forgettable. To live life to the fullest is also to live the most memorable one.

So the next time you hear someone complaining against the growth of the English language, you should tell them to live life to the fullest, enjoy a few fails, and have some epic experiences. Maybe you’ll give that person an aha moment. At worst, if the person starts arguing vehemently with you, you could simply reply, “I’m just sayin’.”

2 thoughts on “List of Banned Words Constitutes a “Fail”

  1. Re “back story,” maybe I didn’t notice you use them. I understand perfectly what it means, but I probably just never paid attention to the term.

    For the phonetics point, /p/ and /f/ are closer to each other than /p/ and, say, the voiced alveolar liquid /l/. Try “repudiate” vs “reludiate.” Obviously “repudiate” sounds closer to “refudiate” than to “reludiate.” I’m just saying that “refudiate” is at least acceptably similar to the original. “Reludiate,” on the other hand, is not.


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