Banishing (Or, Better Yet, Ignoring) The Banished Words List

Regression or Progression by AMB_Misfortune of Knowing Blog

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.


  1. I like the vampires, but not the zombies. There is nothing sexy or alluring about zombies. Kinda like people who like cats and people who like dogs. Just a difference. As per the word list, funny yes, but they really are an annoying bunch.

    1. It’s definitely an annoying bunch! But hey, who am I to argue with the development of the English language? Most of these words are probably nothing more than a fad, but others may stick. t’s just not something we can control.

  2. Honestly, I don’t think the Zombie theme has really taken flight yet…It is kind of like how Stephanie Meyer changed vampires–that is still an overwhelming theme but it seems to be dying out. The biggest one I’ve seen is cheesy erotica. I agree that there is a place for every type of novel, and that I don’t have to read it if I don’t like it, which I don’t. It just seems there are a lot of EL James, Sophie Days, etc. cropping up and almost on a daily basis!

        1. My understanding is that “mommy porn,” a controversial term, refers to erotic fiction for a primarily female audience (especially the after 30 crowd), like Fifty Shades. I’m not an expert, though!

  3. Haha! I love zombies. I even have the Zombie Survival Guide. I think they’re so popular lately because it’s tied into end of the world stuff, and end of the world stuff is all the biz right now—especially with that last major date we survived. Can’t say I’m tired of anything in literature (if I’m not interested, I just don’t read it. Any notion of banning is silly to me.) But I am SICK TO DEATH of reboots/remakes in the movies. Sure, some of them have been decent (Chris Nolan’s Batman), but did we really need 3 Transformer movies, another 21 Jump Street, or Judge Dredd redux? I’m sure some will disagree with me, and I might not mind so much if Hollywood had a lot of original material coming out of it. It’s like they don’t know how to write stories anymore, just revamp old ones. Or if they do come up with new ideas, it’s just to rehash a crap story hoping to make billions *cough James Cameron cough*. Thank goodness for literature so I don’t go completely crazy with movies—which kills me, because I love movies. *sigh*

    But yeah, banishing words? If you don’t like a word, don’t use it.

    1. I completely agree about remakes in movies! There are times I enjoy remakes, particularly of classics, but usually the remake is much worse than the original and it makes you wonder why they bothered to do it.

  4. I agree with the vampire genre. There are lot of them out there. I’ve read some of them, but can’t spend all my reading on them. I like Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instrument series and its prequel series. The same goes for dystopian fiction. There is a lot of it out there right now. I do like reading it, but sometimes they get a little cookie cutterish. For example, I have read both the Insurgent and Matched trilogies this year, and while I like both, they seem interchangeable at times.

    1. I haven’t read Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instrument, but I’ll look into it! Thanks for mentioning it. I’m not opposed to any theme in literature as long as it’s done well.

      1. After looking at some of the people’s comments (who are opposed to zombies), I thought about another series I read this year by James Dashner. His Maze Runner series was recommended as an alternative to The Hunger Games (which I also read and enjoyed). The first book has no mention of zombies but in the remaining books people are affected by horrible virus that makes them into basically zombies. I wouldn’t ordinarily have read a book with an advertised zombie theme, but I did enjoy Dashner’s take on it.

  5. I feel pretty done with the vampire romances, especially when everything that has made vampires sort of sad, sympathetic, yet scarey creatures has been taken away. I’m also getting pretty sick of love triangles. They all work the same way with a girl’s perspective and two boys that are in love with her. One boy is dark, brooding, and mysterious, the other is usually her best friend.

  6. You nailed one of the genres I never read: zombies. I’m afraid I agree with the NYT. What is it with this fixation? And although I published a book about a giant bird (the Phoenix) that becomes a man, and therefore heard it labeled a shifter book (I never thought of Talis Kehk that way!), I don’t read shifter books.

    I’m sure there are many wonderful, imaginative zombie and shifter books available, but it’s doubtful I’ll ever find them because I skip right past those genres when book hunting.

    1. Yeah, I see what you mean. As I’ve said before, I tend to skip zombie books not because they’re too common, but because I don’t like books that scare me. I was surprised when I actually ended up liking Dennard’s book.

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