The Fascinating Origins of the Banished Word List
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“As great minds have the faculty of saying a great deal in a few words, so lesser minds have a talent of talking much, and saying nothing.” — Francois de la Rochefoucauld
Odds are that if you’re a fellow word nerd, you’ve already seen the news of the 2022 Banished Words List.
I’ll save you the trouble of looking them up. They are:
At the end of the day
That being said
Asking for a friend
You’re on mute
Before I get into the wonderful history of this list, I’m going to try to use all of these words in a few sentences.
“Wait, what? No worries, you’re on mute. That being said, let’s circle back and do a deep dive on the new normal. At the end of the day, I’m just asking for a friend.”
But First, Some History
I don’t leave much to chance in this newsletter. That is, I make very deliberate decisions about content. But, thanks to the speed at which the internet works, these may be lost on the casual reader.
At the intersection of banishment and Sherlock Holmes is a Michigan public relations legend W.T. “Bill” Rabe, the creator of the Banished Words List. Or more officially, the annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use, and General Uselessness.
Like me, Bill was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the literary society dedicated to Sherlock Holmes; he received his investiture (a fancy word for a nickname) in 1955, as “Colonel Warburton’s Madness,” after the name of one of an unrecorded case of Sherlock Holmes.
And you’re about to see why, thanks to the generous spirit of Bill’s son John, longtime host of Off-Ramp on KPCC and now the production and promotions director there.
Interview with John Rabe
🕓 John, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions for us. Tell us a little about your father’s career.
WT “Bill” Rabe was chief of publicity for the University of Detroit from some time in the 1950s to 1969, when he became head of “college relations” for Lake Superior State College (LSSC) — later LSSU, from which he retired in 1989.
He started doing public relations work for Mackinac Island and Grand Hotel in1969. Grand Hotel paid him a retainer to do PR about the hotel specifically and Mackinac Island in general, figuring what was good for the Island was good for the Grand. And Harry Ryba, the Fudge King, also contributed in-kind … generally an apartment for my dad and visiting journalists.
He also did tons of freelance journalism (to help pay for six kids). That included theatre reviews in Detroit, and AP and UPI photo stringing in the Soo [shorthand for Sault Ste. Marie -ed.]. A week didn’t go by when he didn’t send off at least one photo.
My dad was a classic old-school PR man. He wouldn’t clobber you over the head with the many virtues of his clients — although he never did crisis communications or worked for entities that didn’t have many virtues — but instead invented events that allowed his clients to appear in the background.
Stamp Out the Beatles Society (SOBS) involved clean-cut U-of-D students in a mock protest of the Mop Tops; the annual Word Banishment list was “sponsored” by Lake State; Grand Hotel’s immense front porch was the natural site for strolling on World Sauntering Day.
And since he wasn’t overtly and annoyingly boosting a client, disc jockeys, columnists, and editors loved having him on or using his material. Which was also, by the way, often released on slow news days, like January 1st, July 4th, etc.