Publish the bans

9 Oct

Most things aren’t banned,  not even in style guides. They’re “best avoided”, “not preferred”, “overused”, but not banned. House style expresses choices, counsels caution on homonyms, or corrects misunderstood facts and lazy thinking, but those don’t count as prohibitions.

Style guide editors can be withering in the extreme about poor writing without actually proscribing it. The Tribune’s production editor, an expert in being withering, points out about the word “iconic” that it is “in danger of losing all meaning after an average three appearances a day” in the paper. He then, in a separate entry, appends a list of everything we described as iconic “during a heady fortnight in 2010”, which appears to have included bluefin tuna, Kraft cheese slices, Nigel Slater and the parliamentary constituency of Hove. But even that doesn’t result in an outright ban:  “Our advice, even if our own writers rarely follow it, is to show a little more thought, and restraint, in using this term”.

Even with swear words and offensive terms, although there are adjurations to be very careful, we are permitted to print them in full when (for example) reporting stories about hate speech or disciplinary hearings.

No: a proper ban is a blanket prohibition on a word or phrase wherever it appears, even in its correct meaning. A strict-liability offence. And even in our style guide, there are some. This is what’s listed as banned – actually banned – at the Tribune.

authoress along with comedienne*, manageress, lady doctor and male nurse

full-blown Aids essentially meaningless: “people have Aids only when they present with an Aids-defining illness” (Unesco)

black-on-black violence “Imagine the police saying they were ‘investigating an incident of white-on-white violence between Millwall and West Ham supporters'”

committed suicide “suicide has not been a crime in the UK for many years”

dialogue of the deaf  “most deaf people are perfectly capable of conducting a dialogue”

the disabled Use “disabled people”

happy-clappy “avoid”

kaffir lime replace with makrut lime

lepers say “leprosy patients”

mentally handicapped say “person with learning difficulties”

Mid-East “never, even in headlines”; always Middle

north of the border “avoid this expression: we work on national newspapers”

persons “No! They are people”

post-ironic “idiotic”

practising homosexual along with “the equally grotesque ‘active homosexual'”

Siamese twins use “conjoined”

shark-infested on the grounds that a creature cannot “infest” its original habitat

skyrocket “No!”

spinster “has acquired a pejorative tone”

squaw now regarded as offensive

third world described as “outdated (as well as objectionable)”

wrinklies “patronising, unfunny way to refer to elderly people; do not use”

* The phrase “feminist comedienne” recently got quite a long way through the production process before being intercepted.

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2 Responses to “Publish the bans”

  1. Jeff November 11, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    What about quotations? If you interviewed me and I contrived to work in a significant number of these words and phrases to my answers, would you quote me or paraphrase?

    I’m also interested in the etymology of ‘committed’ [suicide] – can’t one commit something that isn’t a crime? It suggests an act from which there is no turning back rather than something with a legal aspect.

    • edlatham November 11, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

      I think if you were That Kind Of Person with a reputation for speaking like that, we might actually let them through, especially if it were an interview. If you were just a civilian and you used one in passing, maybe we’d opt not to quote that sentence directly!

      With regard to ‘commit’, used transitively in the sense of ‘perform’, I can’t immediately think of an example sentence that doesn’t involve a ‘crime or error’, as Collins says? Although as a word, it has lots of other meanings

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