ICYMI: TIME is running its annual poll asking users which word should be banned in the coming year, and feminism is winning, with almost 50 percent of the vote.
At first glance, feminism's place on a mostly frivolous list, which includes sorry not sorry and said no one ever, seems glaringly out of place. It's almost as though writer Katy Steinmetz is implying that feminism, like normcore or ombre, is an irksome, passé trend. Weird. IN HER DEFENSE, her reasoning for nominating the word states:
You have nothing against feminism itself, but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let's stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade.
Right: Discussing Civil Rights has never, like, significantly altered a society for the better or anything. Also: I'm fairly certain that celebrities' ability to be vocal on the issue speaks to its normalization -- which is part of what feminists have been angling for all this time, no? When Beyoncé illuminates a word in huge letters at a performance, it broadcasts a message to viewers who, unlike Steinmetz, may not have heard it so much as to consider it hackneyed.
But enough talking about feminism, lest we wish to appear unfashionable. What interested me were the list's other contenders, including obvi, literally and I can't even. These words are used almost exclusively by women, and many of them are conversational hedges or means of minimizing a statement by imbuing it with humor. Plenty of studies show that women use slang as a means of achieving politeness and understanding in conversation. This socialized gender difference is not necessarily a bad thing. When used excessively or inappropriately, obvi might make serious subjects seem flippant. But, as Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay writes in her essay "How To Be Friends With Another Woman," heavy conversations between female friends are best broached "with an empathetic, 'GIRL.'"
Women aren't the only marginalized group inadvertently targeted in TIME's poll. Slang used by young people and people of color -- basic, turnt, bae -- is included, too. As TheRoot.com pointed out, TIME acts as though "these terms only become popular once they've been used by white public figures," and the "magazine is a repeat offender in this area, since it has also 'explained' the term 'twerking' to its readership."
Slang has a unique power of connecting people, especially minority communities, and thus is more valuable than other overused expressions, so it's peculiar that TIME would highlight it so pointedly. A possible explanation: Colloquial phrases are used more frequently on social media platforms than something like trite academic jargon is, so they're more likely to stale quickly. Most of the aforementioned to-be-banned words would look at home with a hashtag preceding them, so their popularity is more likely to occur in spikes rather than sloping waves.
Like incessantly played Top-40 hits, words like YOLO and twerk are everywhere, until suddenly they aren't. They're naturally usurped by similar expressions that serve similarly important functions. Which is why the idea of banning such phrases, regardless of how aggravating they may be, is, well, problematic. So here's to the strange, swirling cycle of language -- a beautiful thing that should never be censored.