When Publications Ban Words

In April Gawker editor Max Read sent out a memo to the site’s writers with a list of banned words and practices. On the list, he includes internet slang such as “epic,” “derp,” “pwn,” “OMG,” and the standalone “this.” Read writes, “We want to sound like regular adult human beings, not Buzzfeed writers or Reddit commenters.” In this new editorial directive, Gawker will move away from its signature vernacular to embrace a more formal style.

In Slate’s podcast Culture Gabfest, deputy editor Julia Turner points out that this is not a shocking development. Publications, she says “…have often banned the words that play into the most negative stereotypes about their publication… because they’re trying to avoid becoming clichés of themselves.” Turner points to a 2001 New York Times article that reveals that Town & Country steered clear of the word “socialites,” and Gourmet frowned on “crispy,” “sinful,” and “divine.” Many publications ban swear words, as Ben Zimmer explores in his article on how newspapers handle the expletive in one of President Obama’s favorite phrases, also known colloquially as the Obama Doctrine.

Do you think publications should ban words? Are there any words you try to avoid in your writing? Why do you eschew these particular words? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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