With the New Year quickly approaching, now is the time for annual polls and lists, including my least favorite type: the facetious “banished” words lists. I saw TIME’s poll, and, of course, the list from Lake Superior State University will be out soon.*
These lists are tongue-in-cheek, to the extent that censorship jokes are funny, but they contain an underlying elitism and resistance to change that bother me. We all have words that annoy us, but enough to proclaim that those words should be “banished”? The English language has many linguistic roots and has developed in a haphazard way through the use and misuse of words over time. The “banished words” lists, comprised of overused or misused words, give purists an outlet to commiserate with others about the perceived deterioration of the English language. There is a fine line between deterioration and innovation. Some of these words may sound silly now, but our great-grandchildren may disagree.
This year, TIME’s poll of fifteen words includes “zombie apocalypse,” and asks the question, “What is it with the undying zombie fixation?” I chuckled when I saw this and recalled our fascination with zombies in literature. “Banishing” the term from the English language (if we take the joke seriously for a second) would prohibit the publication of many popular books. Zombies are one of many recurring themes in literature, which draws from a multitude of sources, including the Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Harry Potter. In this way, the evolution of literature is much like the development of language, with each new work building upon a synthesis of its predecessors. These days, it seems like the publishing industry can never have too much magic or too many modern twists on Austen (which I like, actually)!**
There may be many zombie books out there—including Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies—but the recurrence of the walking dead (or other themes) is not necessarily a bad thing. Anyone bothered by the frequent appearance of such themes can always find something else to read that better suits his or her taste.
That said, in your opinion, are there any themes that appeared too frequently in literature this year? Do you avoid these types of books?
*Update (12/31/12): The list is now out.
**Update (8/3/15): I wrote this post long before I’d ever thought about writing Amelia Elkins Elkins, my modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.