It has become an annual practice at Michigan’s Lake Superior State University. Somewhat in fun, the school in Sault Ste. Marie has compiled a list of words or phrases each year that should be banished from our vocabulary. The exercise which began in 1976 was instituted to “uphold, protect, and support excellence in language by encouraging avoidance of words and terms that are overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, clichéd, illogical, nonsensical — and otherwise ineffective, baffling, or irritating.”
Of this year’s nearly 1,500 nominees, about 250 words and terms to be banished are related to COVID-19. Seven of the top ten selected expressions are indeed related to the “pandemic.” Oh wait, I cannot use that term; it made the top ten!
Huffington Post reports, “COVID-19” and “social distancing” are thrown in with “we’re all in this together,” “in an abundance of caution” and “in these uncertain times” on the school’s light-hearted list of banned words and phrases for 2021. Another overused term on the list is “unprecedented.”
It seems to me there also are some expressions that are underused which should be added to our daily vocabulary. Here are my top six: please, thank you, I care, I apologize, I forgive, I am wrong. Yes, these terms are directed toward and benefit the other person.
In 2018, I watched a few episodes of a new TV drama, New Amsterdam. The lead character is Dr. Max Goodwin, the new medical director at America’s oldest public hospital. One outstanding characteristic of the determined, optimistic director is his habit of responding to the problems and circumstances of his hospital staff by asking, “What can I do to help.”
In my experience, our typical response is a statement rather than a question: “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” It really does come from our heart, but in reality, it puts the burden of the offer on the other person, and many of those persons will not want to bother us by reaching out for help.
I have tried to develop the habit of responding with Dr. Goodwin’s question. Doing so makes me immediately available, expresses a desire to really help, and it asks for specifics. If the person cannot think of anything at that moment, I may even suggest a couple of ideas before assuring them that, at least, I will add them to my prayer list.
A moment ago you probably thought of a word or two that you would like to see banished. What about now; have you become aware of expressions that you need to include more often?
Steven Callis is the minister at First Church of the Nazarene in Douglasville.