The Word Lab of the Lake Superior State College Unicorn Hunters is a modest establishment, but it has all the latest equipment.
In gleaming white and stainless steel facilities are the basic Oxford Universal Dictionary, the Henley-Farmer "Slang and Its Analogues," as well as the "Complete Crossword Dictionary" and Johnson's Dictionary (the McAdam-Milne "Modern Selection"), as well as a collection of retorts, interjections, banishment posters, jargon, vocables, pamphlets, monographs and more than 10,000 reports from Unicorn Hunter agents around the world.
The lab is staffed by pronouncers, writers, undergraduate assistants, pontificators and promulgators.
The Word Lab's primary research is published in the annual New Year's Dishonour List of Words Banished From the Queen's English for Mis-, Mal- and Over-Use as Well as General Uselessness.
The seventh list, 1981, was drawn from 1,500 letters of nomination by the New Year's Eve Ad Hoc Committee for release to a waiting world on a slow news day, Jan. 1.
"Campaign rhetoric," "moral majority" and "serves no useful purpose" headed the list of words consigned to oblivion.
"Moral majority" was cited by Michael R. Moloney of Lexington, Ky., who said in a mid-November radio interview, "I'm not sure how moral they are, but I'm convinced they're not a majority." Moloney is a third-generation, non-Happy Chandler Democrat and a member of the recently formed Immoral Minority, whose slogan is "25 million Americans could be wrong."
"Campaign rhetoric" is a smoke screen. It should be translated, "I was lying when I said it, but, heh, heh, that's politics." Its use by Detroit Mayor Coleman Young is classic. In his famous apology, Mayor Young said, "When I called him [candidate Reagan] 'Pruneface,' it was campaign rhetoric. In the future, I'll call him 'President Pruneface.'"
"No useful purpose" must also be translated. Explains Prof. Peter Thomas, chief hearald of the Unicorn Hunters, this means 'I don't want it done, but I really don't know why, and I can't think up a plausible reason.'"
Rep. George Crockett Jr.'s usuage is typical. He said of former Michigan congressman Charles Diggs, then serving the tenth month of a three-year sentence for misuse of funds, "Further detention would serve no useful purpose." What he meant was, "He's my buddy, and I want him out."
Two Redundancy Red Alerts: "past history" (nominated by Louise Knack, Sharon, Wis.) and "exact same" (Kathleen S. Painter, Ft. Collins, Colo.).
Words That Cloy the Ear Banishments:
1. Fruitworthy. The nomination citation was a remark by Chicago's Mayor Jane Byrne. She hoped "the investigation would prove fruitworthy." The refreshing horror of this malformation merits for Her Honor the rarely awarded Meaningful Meaningless Trophy, a handcarved, double-headed arrow bestowed only upon public officials who seem confused about which way their sentences are going.
2. James Sandry of Farmington Hills, Mich., submitted his nomination in the form of a death notice from the Detroit Free Press. It explained that the deceased would be "funeralized."
3. Pat Van Epps of North Muskegeon, Mich., cited actors and other entertainers who refer endlessly in interviews to "their craft, paying their dues, and surviving." The latter phrase should be restricted to overcoming drowning, earthquakes, wars and such incidents as the French Revolution.
Suffix Red Alert: "-gate." This was popularized as "Watergate" (a place and a scandal) but has been expanded to "Koreagate" (a country) and "Billygate" (a person). T. V. Lacher of Tucker, Ga., observes that "the latest of these 'gates' has given rise to 'negative fallout,' whatever that is."
Totally Useless and Banished: "For sure" and "de-plane."
Said Dick Longworthy of Chicago, "'For sure' is used as a positive response. Let us bring back 'Yes' before it dies. Can one imagine Molly, in the titanic final lines of 'Ulysses,' crying, 'For sure! For sure!'?"
Charlotte Kratt of Birmingham, Ala., asks of "de-plane," "Why can't they just say 'leave the plane'?"
The Unicorn Hunters have noted an increasing number of nominations related to instructions broadcast over airplane and airport public address systems. Constant repetition seems to be annoying passengers who are already annoyed at waiting, having tickets torn into fragments and constantly being forced to make decisions concerning smoking and non-smoking, window and aisle, Coke and martini. They object to being reminded constantly that if the plane falls into the sea, their seat cushions will float, even if they don't.
Limited Banishment: "share" and "adult." These are perfectly good words that are misused. "Share" is appropriate to business pages and crusts of dry bread, but must we be told (asks nominator Robert Sears of Roanoke, Va.) by every teacher, preacher or after-dinner speaker that he wishes to "share" something with us. What they mean is, "Shut up and listen to my ideas and this funny story."
Katherine E. Miller of Ventura, Calif., objects to "the debasement of 'adult.' We wait more than 20 years to become one only to find that it now means 'obscene.' An adult bookstore should sell Jane Austen, John Galsworothy and Sigrid Undset, not pornography."
"Adult" may still be used to distinguish real people from teen-agers.
Prof. Thomas points out that "the Unicorn Hunters are not opposed to the fresh, crisp, vivid expression of ideas. The English language is a gift which only human beings are permitted to use. It has thousands of parts in various sizes and meanings. Let us take great care to assemble them effectively."