“Men must be governed” – Captain Jack Aubrey

[Once again, the Rover has been the accidental recipient of a message intended for Notre Dame’s administration. And again, we have opted to publish the author’s innovative ideas.]

To whom it may concern,

When I last wrote to you, I was throwing my hat into the ring for the provost position; I’m sorry to see that you’ve already filled the position with an internal hire. Still, I am eager to offer my services and experience in the secular world to help the University of Notre Dame keep pace with the other great research universities.

Stanford’s harmful language list has been the latest in a movement towards a prescriptive management of language. And although Stanford’s list was criticized and ultimately rescinded because of its extremism—(they judged the phrase “kill two birds with one stone” to be too violent)—I argue that their efforts are only the beginning of a great “Spring Cleaning” for the English language.

Other schools have already addressed language deemed harmful or offensive; I propose that Notre Dame circulate a sister manifesto which targets scientifically unfounded or misleading terms and phrases, in an effort to ensure that our students and faculty are protected from misinformation. My first draft of the manifesto contains 1,081 terms to be banned, organized alphabetically into 112 categories. Below I have attached the first three categories, as a sample for your consideration.

Under the category of anatomic falsehoods:

Instead of “lend a hand,” use “help me.” Reason: human limbs are not detachable, and the suggestion of borrowing or lending may lead to an economy built on self-mutilation (see also “cost(s) an arm and a leg”). Instead of “put our heads together,” use “think cooperatively.” Reason: seeing as osmosis is impossible for humans, this phrase wrongly purports that physical proximity contributes to increased generation of thoughts.

Under the category of aquatic falsehoods:

Instead of “duck” (verb), use “get out of the way.” Reason: this term, when shouted, misleadingly suggests the presence of water-fowl. Instead of “Duck, duck, goose,” use “not my selection, not my selection, my selection.” Reason: this game teaches human children that their human children peers are Anatidae. Instead of “running water,” use “flowing water.” Reason: science has long proven that water has neither feet nor legs on which to run.

Under the category of astronomical falsehoods:

Instead of “star,” use “popular celebrity.” Reason: this term implies that someone is a body of burning gas, which cannot be assumed without further investigation. Instead of “full-moon,” use “moon well-positioned for solar reflection.” Reason: this term implies that the moon’s mass fluctuates cyclically, or that it is hollow, neither of which have been tested and proven empirically. Instead of “sunrise/set,” use “earth-turn.” Reason: this term propagates flat-earth theories. 

I hope that you have begun to see how helpful and constructive authoritarian linguistic restrictions could be. Through such a system, we might eliminate useless phrases which only mislead and deceive, rather than educate in the sciences. If we are successful, this manifesto will be a nail in the coffin of metaphor; it may, as David’s stone, strike the lofty brow of biblical allusion; and folksy turns-of-phrase will bite the dust quicker than two shakes of a rabbit’s tail.


J. N. Wormwood


James Whitaker is a graduate student in the Theology department. He has only just discovered that theologians are not highly paid and that he has only one other marketable skill. If you have hedges you would like sculpted (or any other topiary-related artistic commissions), email him at jwhitak5@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: Matthew Rice