Throwing pandemic terms into the fire

It was a Saturday night in the early summer.

At that point, a few months into the pandemic, we were sick of it. Sick of having to cancel plans. Sick of the uncertainty. Sick of it all.

My family and I had a bonfire. Relaxing around the flames, we listened to music, ate s’mores, and tried to keep things as positive as we could.

Then, Betsy had an idea.

To blow off some steam (smoke?) Betsy and I took turns hitting the fire with a stick, yelling “COVID” as we dually kindled the fire and took out a small degree of frustration. Cautious of the fire, the girls took turns bashing sticks against the nearby ground, yelling the same thing.

It was rather silly, but also cathartic. We all laughed afterward. It was helpful for us to recognize that we couldn’t do anything about the virus, but it was simultaneously OK for us to to be wholly upset about the situation and trying our darnedest to make the most of it.

As I’ve written about before, I eagerly anticipate Lake Superior State University’s annual Banished Words List. The university, located in my wife’s hometown, has since 1976 published an annual group of words that aims to “uphold, protect, and support excellence in language by encouraging avoidance of words and terms that are overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, cliched, illogical, nonsensical, and otherwise ineffective, baffling, or irritating.”

I couldn’t think of anything more “baffling” or “irritating” than the virus, so I wasn’t surprised to hear of 2021’s list, which, like the fire, has a little bit of a cathartic quality to me.

Here it is, with my own comments in parentheses.

∫ COVID-19, COVID, coronavirus, ‘Rona (the last one completely makes my skin crawl)

∫ Social distancing (after this is over, I might suggest getting rid of the overused word “social” all together).

∫ We’re all in this together (this was a nice battle cry, at first, but this virus has done the opposite in exposing wildly differing viewpoints).

∫ In an abundance of caution (I’m tired of being cautious!).

∫ In these uncertain times (how many times have we heard a politician or health official open a statement with this line?).

∫ Pivot (this one extends beyond the virus, and, as a businessman and basketball fan, I feel that we are absolutely doing the equivalent of the basketball move — keeping one foot firmly planted on the ground, while changing our position by rotating the rest of our body; still, maybe that overused phrase should be best used for the court).

∫ Unprecedented (asking for a friend … when does this go on long enough to be considered “precedented?”).

The last three entries are not related to the virus, but, for the sake of completing the list, here they are, with explainers from lssu.edu.

∫ Karen — What began as an anti-racist critique of the behavior of white women in response to Black and Brown people has become a misogynist umbrella term for critiquing the perceived overemotional behavior of women. As one critic said: “(It’s) offensive to all normal people named Karen.”

∫ Sus — The shortened version of “suspicious” in a popular multiplayer online social video game. The game is designed around identifying “sus” imposters so they can be “thrown into the lava.”

∫ I know, right? — A relatively new construction to convey empathy with those who have expressed agreement. But, as one wordsmith put it, if you know, why do you need to ask if it’s correct or seek further approval?

Are there any words or phrases you’d like to toss in the proverbial fire?

Here’s to hoping that 2021’s list contains less pandemic-related words, and more annoying phrases like “Karen” and “sus.”

I know, right?

Jeremy Speer is the publisher of The Courier in Findlay, Ohio, The Advertiser-Tribune in Tiffin, Ohio, and the Review Times in Fostoria, Ohio. He can be reached at jeremyspeer@thecourier.com or jspeer@advertiser-tribune.com.


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