The recent excitement over an incredible story about the government trying to ban certain words reminded me of all the words and phrases I despise and wish were banned.
Briefly: The Washington Post reported Friday that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, had been forbidden from using seven words as they prepared their 2019 budget documents. The words were: vulnerable, diversity, entitlement, fetus, transgender, science-based and evidence-based.
Everybody went bonkers on cue.
Pro-choice activists insisted that such word changes were an attempt to thwart abortion rights. The CDC pushed back and denied the ban. CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald went straight to Twitter, writing: “I want to assure you there are no banned words at CDC. We will continue to talk about all our important public health programs.”
What really happened? It’s hard to know for sure at this point. The Post sees a heavy-handed silencing, but the National Review’s Yuval Levin offers a different explanation. According to Levin’s sources, the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, issued a stylebook to departments for the preparation of budget documents. Included were three of the words mentioned above — vulnerable, diversity and entitlement — with the suggestion that they be used as little as possible because they were either used too often or incorrectly.
Levin was also told that other, more intriguing words were mentioned as possible “trigger” words that might so upset congressional Republicans that they’d slash funding. These were fetus, science-based, evidence-based and transgender. In some cases, alternatives were suggested, such as “unborn child” for “fetus.” In other words, if you want those people — congressional Republicans — to fund us, don’t use language they don’t like.
One could call this either, “Oh, my God, they’re trying to ban words!” Or you could call it common sense. I’m not sure which is more discomfiting, however: CDC guys worried that “science-based” would so frighten Republicans that they’d kill their budget, or that this could possibly be true.
Obviously, the government shouldn’t ban words, which is probably why it didn’t. But there’s no reason a columnist can’t take a stab. In a gesture of democratic pandering, I even enlisted the help of my kingdom of Facebook friends. Because they were self-selecting, this survey should not be construed as “science-based.”
My own personal list, the phrasing of which is rhythmically pleasing if obviously redundant, begins with nouns that have been “re-purposed” as verbs.
When a friend recently said to me that she hadn’t been “gifted” in a long while, I thought, “So I see.” Then, “lo and behold,” (a phrase that will be allowed at Christmastime), I was informed by a linguist that “to gift” has been a verb since 1550. He noted, however, that he would have interpreted my friend’s statement as meaning that she hadn’t been given (as a gift) in a while. That, too, I’m sure.
To put it bluntly, “awesome” isn’t anymore. “Snowflake” produces more ennui than insult. “Pivot,” “veritable,” “in reality,” and “best practices” wear us down. “Breaking news” is news. It’s devastated, not “decimated.” You don’t “effort,” for heaven’s sake. You make an effort. Or, maybe just try. Which apparently is a thing. No problem? You’re welcome. And I take back my thank you.
We’re not going to “unpack” anything, unless you’re my valet, or “drill down,” unless you’re the plumber. We’re sick of optics, mansplainin’, onboarding and this, as in “what she said.” We’ve had it with closure and ideating, as well as doubling down on the whole nine yards. No one is “woke.”
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, the fact of the matter is we were all vulnerable as fetuses, some of whom were surely bound to become transgender because evidence-based diversity is what it is.
But, no worries. It’s all good. Believe me. Bigly.