Words Matter: The Seven Banned Words of 2017

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” — Yehuda Berg

“It’s a beautiful thing the destruction of words.” — George Orwell, 1984

Earlier in the week I began writing a blog post. Since it was the holiday season, I thought I would reflect on memories of the past and muse about what holiday traditions mean for me today. The draft I was working on was entitled, ‘Tis the Season: Memories and Musings. As sometimes happens, I couldn’t get in the flow of the subject, words and ideas were not coming to me, the proverbial writer’s block. Instead, I edited the opening paragraph three or four times without making any significant progress. Words and the messages behind them are important and matter. They are the tools of the writer and the fundamental way we all communicate to achieve understanding.

Yesterday morning when I woke up, I poured my Cup of Joe, and logged online to read the news. I learned Trump’s White House banned seven words from the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) 2018 budget request language. As a writer, I rely on words like painters depend on oils and acrylics, musicians on instruments, and singers on their voices.

Without words, especially the right, or precise words, my blog post essays, poems, reminiscences, spoken word monologues, and screenplays would not be understood. Banning words are fighting words for me and many others.  I now had a new topic to write about it and the words began to flow.

Before I go any further, in the event you have been avoiding the news during the holiday season, here are the seven banned words: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, science-based.

Looking Back

When I read the seven words it reminded me that this was not the first time that seven words were banned. In 1966 political satirist and beat comic Lenny Bruce was arrested for uttering a list of nine “filthy words” that were deemed obscene: ass, balls, cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, piss, shit, tits. A few years later, George Carlin was arrested for disturbing the peace in 1972 at Summerfest in Milwaukee for uttering the following seven words in his performance: cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, piss, shit, tits. Carlin soon made these seven “Filthy Words” part of his routine on his comedy album, Occupation: Foole. 

In October, 1973, Pacifica radio station WBAI broadcast an uncensored version of Carlin’s routine when a father and member of Morality in Media heard the broadcast and expressed concern on the effect of this language on his 15-year-old son and other children and complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

After a series of litigations and Supreme Court rulings, it was determined that the seven words may trigger indecency rulings, including penalties and threats to licenses, by the FCC brought against radio and television broadcasters if the words were broadcast when children most likely would be exposed between the hours of 6 am to 10 pm. In the end, this too was challenged in 2010 as unconstitutional as a violation of free speech, however many broadcasters continue to prohibit the seven words. Click here to read more.

In March of 2013, the year I launched my blog, I wrote and posted an essay, The Seven Words that addressed this story of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Once appearing on a live broadcast of an open mic here in Madison, Wisconsin, I was handed the list of the Seven Words that I couldn’t say.

Banned Words & Books

Regressive and authoritarian governments have prohibited free speech and banned books as a way of controlling the people it governs. The media is censored and/or closely monitored, or as we see today, is accused of bias and for broadcasting “fake news.” These are common themes in literature, stories about dystopian societies, including George Orwell’s 1984, and Ray Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451.  Both books were adapted for film.

Yesterday, as I read the new list of seven banned words, a Facebook memory from four years ago popped up on my news feed. It was a game a friend invited me to participate in. List the 10 books that have stayed with me for some time. I followed her instructions, “Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard they don’t have to be the ‘right’ ones, or ‘great works,just the ones that have touched you.” Note: I cheated a little and when I selected collections of plays, I broad-stroked and listed them as the, “The plays of…”

The Velveteen Rabbit
Brave New World
Fahrenheit 451
The Illustrated Man
The Road Less Traveled
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Rubyfruit Jungle
The Plays of Tennessee Williams
The Plays of Edward Albee

One of the books from the list that has left an impact on me was also made into a film, Fahrenheit 451. The title refers to the temperature that book paper catches fire and burns. The story by Ray Bradbury depicts a future society where books are banned and burned. The 1966 film, directed by François Truffaut is being remade by HBO to premiere in 2018. One of the themes the book and film explore, “If books are burned, which book would you memorize so the words would not be lost?” Mine interestingly enough, would be this book.

Words Matter

A particular pet peeve of mine is the use of euphemisms. I vigilantly monitor my own use of them and try to break ingrained habits.  Example: We don’t lose loved ones. They die. Often euphemisms are attempts to diminish the power and impact of words. The seven words banned for use by the CDC are perfect examples of that. It’s an attempt at denial and an effort to censor any recognition that the issues exist, yet they do, despite their deceptions and diversions, a hallmark of the Trump administration.

“Not since Lysenko and Stalin has government made hate, malice and duplicity official policy. The Trump administration with its seven-dirty-words policy has now elevated lying to a national standard.”

“We cannot replace truth with bias — the nation cannot survive a steady diet of bullshit.” — Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at New York University’s School of Medicine

Some days I feel like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. In Lewis Carrol’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There he introduces us to the Jabberwock, and his use of Jabberwocky, meaningless or useless language, nonsense.  Trump and his spokespeople are full of Jabberwocky, or if I were to call it what it is, it’s bullshit!

A miniature Alice in Wonderland, a Teeny Tiny Tableaux by artist Jo Jensen, sits at my writing desk to remind me how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole.

Words matter.


To Read More about the Banned Seven Words in 2017:

The Seven Forbidden Words – The Washington Post

CDC List of Forbidden Words

Trump Administration CDC Banned Words

CDC Banned Words


More on this Subject from Mixed Metaphors, Oh My!

The Seven Words

The Perfect Timing of Dismaland

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