Muammar Gaddafi

Jesse B. Awalt / US Navy

Alert! Here is my list of banned words for 2010:

· “internet”
· “hovercraft”
· “serf”
· “jai-alai”
· “Asia”
· “and”
· “help”
· “word”

Just kidding! You’re still allowed to use these words.

But isn’t this type of list obnoxious? How can you, reader, possibly be expected to face another year on this mortal coil without the solace of saying the word “serf”? I can’t stand “banned word” lists…if anything, they make me all the more determined to keep using terms like “Y2K” and “surgical strike,” just out of spite. The next time I need a tumor removed, I’m going to specifically request that my doctor excise it via surgical strike. My own personal surgical strike against linguistic conformity, if you will.

If you’re in America, the annual banned word lists you’re used to seeing probably come from – and this is absolutely true – Lake Superior State University. You might be willing to let the martinets at “Lake State” tell you what to say, but I’m not… unless they retract their rejection letter and let me into their prestigious Fire Sciences program. But what if someone else were calling the language shots? Someone a little less like the “The LSSU Word Banishment Committee” (which actually exists, and presumably holds court in a stone-hewn star chamber deep beneath Sault Ste. Marie), and a little more like this guy:

Muammar Gaddafi

Jesse B. Awalt / US Navy

Muammar al-Gaddafi, Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, is a man whose linguistic orders are followed. Take the previous sentence, for example. Almost every term in it, including Gaddafi’s title and the word “Jamahiriya,” was invented by Gaddafi after he staged a coup and seized control of Libya in 1969. He even changed the spelling of the word “Libya” in Arabic so that it would have bilateral symmetry. (This really screwed over generations of Libyan patriots who’d gotten “I love Libya” tattoos. It also screwed over patriotic Americans who’d gottten “I hate Libya” tattoos. In Arabic.)

Say what you will about Jamahiriya as a form of government: it’s hard to imagine an American president having the chutzpah to do this. What if FDR’s first few acts as President had been:

1) To change his title from “President” to “just a guy to bounce ideas off of.”

2) To rename the United States as “the Unstoppable Force that is America!!!”

3) To change the spelling of “America” to “AmeremA.”*

The final linguistic note I’d like to make is a sad one: as of this writing, Gaddafi sits forlornly at the bottom of our list. This is a depressing turn of events for a guy whose nickname as a young man was “al-Jamil,” which you could translate as “the handsome.” (Or “the hottie,” depending on whether you like to imagine rural Libyans of the 1950s as American tweens.)

I guess that’s dictatorship for you. On the plus side, you get to give speeches with pull-no-punches titles like “Ukraine, a real problem.” But on the down side, one minute you’re a lantern-jawed 27 year old army captain seizing power…and before you know it, you’ve been in power for 41 years and it’s been decades since a political consultant gave you some hard words about your hair and wardrobe choices. Ultimately, I think that’s what Gaddafi really needs to claw his way out of last place: some tough but fair image consulting. Luckily enough for him, I happen to be looking for a job. Consider this my cover letter, Gaddafi. Let’s make it happen. With my help, I can almost guarantee you’ll be able to improve your ranking on this website.

*Actually, two of these really were among FDR’s first acts as president. Try and guess which ones!