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My banned list of 10 Church buzzwords

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith urges Catholics to throw out jargon and communicate the truth simply and directly

By on Thursday, 20 September 2012

Star Wars characters wear robes. Priests wear vestments

Star Wars characters wear robes. Priests wear vestments

The English language is not a walled garden, but rather a trampled field over which many passers through have left their mark. The French language has an academy to protect it, which can ban certain words and which has the legal power to enforce its will. But on this side of the Channel, if you use a new word or phrase, as long as it sticks, that word or phrase may well find its way into the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Some of these neologisms have a certain charm or energy to them. Others are ugly, lazy or debased and come, all too often, from America. (Britain has a tendency only to take the worst of American neologisms, rarely the best.) But there is another community of speakers who seem to enjoy scraping the marble cladding off the language of Shakespeare and reducing it to brick. I mean, of course, the Catholic Church. This is one Romanist conspiracy that is sadly
all too real.

Here are 10 examples of Catholic-speak that should be banned.

1) Formation. This word has nothing to do with making things out of clay or Plasticine. Rather, you will encounter it in the following setting: “religious formation” or “clergy formation”. It means something wider than mere education or studies, and is supposed to cover all those activities that go on in seminaries. Sometimes a priest may ask another priest: “Where did you do your formation?” The word comes to us from Italian (formazione) but what the priest really should be saying is: “Where did you do your training?”

2) Robes. Those things you see your priest wearing at the altar? They are not robes. They are vestments. A robe is what you wear on your way to the bathroom. Judges wear robes, but priests vest. Priestly vestments are distinct and important. Robes sound like what they wore in Star Wars.

3) Share. As in “thank you for sharing”. The only possible legitimate use of the word “share”, this side of California, is in the context of the stock market. So, instead of inviting people to share at the next meeting of the parish council, just turn and say: “So, what do you think?”

4) Delicate. This is another import from Italian. Italians use the word delicato where we might use the words “awkward” or “embarrassing”. You are told that the situation in the parish is “delicate”. This means that everyone should bury their heads in the sand, because they are too embarrassed to mention some elephant in the room. Go ahead: mention it and see what happens. And while on that topic…

5) Elephant in the room. This phrase should never be used. Instead, try saying the following: “Major infraction of canon law, which is clear for all to see, but which we are all pretending does not exist.”

6) Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Just ban it. Now. Never let these words be mentioned together again. Ever.

7) Outreach. It seems like a good idea to reach out to people, but why this involves the invention of a new word, I am not sure. What happened to “mission”, a word good enough for the Church’s founder?

8) Guideline. As in “only a guideline”. This is a favourite of those who fear they may be on the wrong side of canon law. It isn’t a guideline, it’s a law. So deal with it.

9) Ongoing. This is a great favourite, especially when nothing is in fact going on. “Our investigations are ongoing” translates as: “We are doing nothing about it at present, except fob you off with words.” This is often found with the first example, as in “ongoing formation” (outside the Church, what is called in-service training), another form of words that masks a lacuna of activity.

10) I know you are very busy right now, Father. Well, he might be or there again, he might not be. But whichever way, he was ordained to minister to the people of God, so speak to him. But whatever you say, do not use any of the words and phrases outlined above.

The 10 words that I have nominated for banishment could perhaps be joined by many others. Every Catholic will have his or her own list. This is mine.

But there is a serious point behind all this. The new translation of the Roman liturgy, and all the talk of a new evangelisation, rest on the concept of communicating timeless truth is a way that is attractive and even enticing. The words and phrase above are either ugly or obfuscating, or both.

We need to tell it like it is, to use one American phrase which is good, direct and powerful. Throwing away the jargon is one small, but necessary, step towards this.

  • Mike

    Are these guidelines ongoing?

  • Andrew

    “Guideline. …  It isn’t a guideline, it’s a law. So deal with it.” Ha! Clearly, you have never studied canon law in Rome. All law is “guidelines”. Just observe the Roman approach to traffic laws, business hours, or queuing up for anything, and you will understand the Roman approach to canon “law”.

  • JabbaPapa

    I know you’re very busy right now Mike, nevertheless the true elephant in the room here is plainly visible in the outreach of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, robed as these ladies are in their delicate, sharing, catholic feminist formation in the spirit of the Council.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith


  • Robert

    I hate the phrase “in a unique and special way” by woolly  preachers, and woollier theologians but mostly Bishops.
    It is a Cormac favourite.

  • Joe

    what if we don’t – will you excommunicate us?

  • josemaria martin

    Some people from other denominations and other Catholics as well,use the term: “Mission Outreach”.(as in let’s do a mission outreach in the shanties) Hmmm… 

  • Benedict Carter

    Here’s a few from me off the top of my head:

    We are Church
    Lay empowerment
    Eucharistic “Minister”
    In communion with
    Justice & Peace

  • Bob Hayes

    An enjoyable article Father. However, I disagree with number 1 in your list. Training is surely what hairdressers and plumbers undergo and put to good use in the service of others. With due respect to these and other skills and occupations, surely priestly ordination is more than the outcome of ‘training’?

  • am-s

    Gathering. I hate gathering. 

  • Trish

    There is nothing wrong with the word “minister.”  The error lies in calling those of us who carry out this privileged task “eucharistic” ministers.  The correct term is extraordinary (meaning not ordained) ministers (which we are when we minister to people) of Holy Communion.  “Eucharist” can refer to several aspects of Mass.  Holy Communion applies only to one. 

  • Parasum

    “Formation” is a perfectly good word. It does not mean “training”, but something more profound, close to discipleship, but not synonymous. A priest needs to be formed, and informed: formed, to become a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, that he may be another Christ in Christ; informed, so that he may be transformed within by the indwelling of the Holy Trinity. It is a word with a wealth of theology behind it, and therefore a bulwark against low, mean, instrumental or utilitarian or purely functional notions of the Christian priesthood. To be. A priest is an identity, not a mere doing. And that word safeguards the high view of the priesthood we need to have – need, because the priesthood is an enactment in time and space of realities beyond time and space.

    I don’t see the problem with referring to the LCWR. That is what it is called. Spiritualising language is a corruption of it, of which there is already an intolerable amount; are we to deny Christians that name, because so many are not clearly or noticeably Christian ? But who could stand, if so strict a judgement were applied by mere men ?

  • Wsg Guentner

    How about “Gathering Song”? Or “Welcome to our community”?

  • Jason Clifford

    To suggest that formation is nothing more than training is to have completely failed to understand what is supposed to happen in the life of every Christian which is specifically sought in seminaries.

    The form “Formation” is used because that is specifically what is happening. We are being made anew – formed into the image of Jesus Christ as St. Paul says.

    Training seeks to equip a person with new skills but does not make a fundamental change to the person in their self. Proper formation however changes the person so training would be entirely the wrong word and formation the right one.

  • Witness

    English is a living language, unlike Latin. Whatever lives, grows. Words are coined by human beings and not the other way round. By time a word gathers moss (sic!) cladding itself with a number of connotations. Thus in the case of seminarians we speak of formation, training in sports, practice in professions.

  • Fniesink

    Gay means happy, bright, attractive…
    Why are homosexuals called that way?

  • Michael Petek

    Because they’re funny that way.

  • Michael Petek

    How do you propose to evict the elephant from the room, Father?

  • BM

    “Faith Journey”.  Uhgggggg.

  • Tom Dawkes

    Fr Lucie-Smith

    You seem to think adopting words into English from another language is suspect (formation and delicate).  Yet surely this is a significant fact of many languages and can actually enrich them: how does Latin, for example, express the ideas of baptism and church without borrowing from Greek?   Not that all  borrowings are felicitous: witness the use of some latinisms in the new English translation of the missal texts. Your article is something of a blunderbuss, aiming at different targets: some are word misuses, others are serious issues … but surely even you would not want to abolish ‘Women Religious’ as a phrase or an ecclesiastical reality

  • Veronica

    “the youth” no one talks about “the youth” except old people and religious people. Call them teenagers, call them preteens, call them young adults, but Lord help us, please don’t call them “the youth”

  • Ascending Mount Carmel

    My vote for number one word to ban:  “dialogue”.


  • Sherry

    THe words “catechesis” and “catechetics” are just not words that regular people use to discuss religious education or spiritual development. And the word “formation” – it may work in theological and academic circles but for most people it is a bit off-putting.

    Thanks for this column.

  • rjt1

    My candidates for banning: ‘inclusive’, ‘pastoral solution’

  • Common-sense-man

    How about “love” and “do not judge” (OK, that’s a phrase)?

  • Simon_GNR

    I liked this article so I clicked on “Like” at the bottom. Then this message appears; “Glad you like it. Would you like to share?”!! Ironical or what? 

    A phrase I would like to banish to the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth is “in many ways” which is often used to mean “to a great extent” or “to a considerable degree”. How many ways, and what precisely are these ways?

    I’m glad that Fr Lucie-Smith makes the point that not all American usages are bad. Sometimes, Americans use English more accurately and precisely than the British do, such as “a man named Alan Smith” rather than the usual British “a man called Alan Smith”. [He's called "Al" by all and sundry, but he is named Alan Smith.]

  • Jameshughes

    I think you are mistaken about latin not being a living language. I understand that the news in Finland is read in latin so I guess it is alive and kicking . Long may it continue!  .AMDG

  • Gigi S

    Re:  #3 – Similar to my pet peeve, “feel.”  Oh spare me from hearing how you “feel.”  Feelings don’t have intellect – I want to know what you THINK!

  • Eqnc

    Ministry…In our church everything is a ministry. Ushers are Ministers of Hospitality. What is wrong with the word usher? A while back they were advertising for assistance to clean up the grounds, spread mulch, etc. It was worded “Come join the Landscape Ministry.

  • Costernocht

    “Share” makes a lot of us Californians gag, too.

  • nytor

    “Spirit of the Council”, “spirit of Vatican II”, “new pentecost”, “new springtime”, “greater openness to the world”, “aggiornamento”, “throwing open the windows”, etc etc

  • Catholic Youth Work

    Amen to that (okay, perhaps another phrase to go!)

    The phrase ‘the youth’ puts me in mind of a certain well-known senior clergyman of recent years. He used the phrase ‘the youth’ a lot but didn’t have a [insert other banned word here beginning with 'F'] clue how to actually minister to them!

  • Catholic Youth Work

    Interesting stuff. 

    Words do tend to tick people off. Not because they’re bad, but usually because they raise a flag in our heads that reminds us of people we don’t like. It’s part of the whole irritating left/ right thing where we put people in camps and then completely close our minds to those people, associating them simply with ‘triggers’ that annoy us!

    Here are some thoughts on some of the above…

    Formation – why not? It reminds us that what makes us who we are is broad. It’s not simply academic, simply pastoral etc etc. What ‘forms’ a priest is far wider than just the seminary programme.

    Robes – totally agree. Annoys me as much as when very lapsed Catholic refer to anything at all that’s prayerful or in a Church as ‘Mass’

    Share – overused, but harmless enough. Why not?

    Delicate – if it’s used as a foil for ‘let’s keep everything nice and avoid any upset‘ then it’s not a good thing. But if it’s used to remind people not to cause upset for the sake of it or to proceed oblivious to people’s feelings, then it’s a very useful word!

    Elephant in the Room – yep, massively overused and silly!

    LCWR – yep, silly people. But yet, I doubt they’ll change just because we take the **** out of them. We need to be a little more (wait for it… another silly word…) constructive!

    Outreach – I’ve used this word often. It’s not a replacement for mission, but rather a way of describing activities which are ‘off-site’ so to speak. Anyone involved in pastoral work knows well that much of what the Church considers pastoral/ catechetical work (schools, parishes etc) is really mission work!

    Guideline – we need to differentiate between laws, rules and guidelines. That’s a given. If people confuse one with another, it’s not the word that’s at fault surely, but the person!

    Ongoing – well, some things are. Just about everything, in fact!

    Busy – yep!

    Sorry, I seem to have been rather critical there. I didn’t start writing with that intent. It’s an interesting piece though, don’t get me wrong :)

  • josemaria martin

    Words to be banned from Catholic Use: “Meal of Love” “Rigid” “Conservative” “Liberal”(of the last two, just replace them respectively with “Orthodox” and “Modernist”) 

  • Canonically Speaking

    Annulment.  There is no such thing.  What you probably mean is a “Declaration of Nullity”.  The term “annulment” makes it sound like the tribunal has nullified what was a marriage.  But that hasn’t happened at all.  Rather, after a canonical trial, the tribunal has ascertained with moral certitude that there never was a valid marriage and are now declaring that fact.  The tribunal thus issues a declaration of nullity.

  • haggis95

    Training is different from formation. You could train a monkey to “ape” the gestures in the mass. What we need are fully “formed” priests – mature, confident, compassionate, enthusiastic. You can’t train for that.

  • Steaphenbrian0306

    journey, closure, Ordinariate :D

  • joxxer

    I concur. This is a great list –and there are more. Why do people cloud the meaning of things? Afraid of the TRUTH? Trying to be Protestant? Watering down the Faith– MUST STOP!

  • Proteios1

    All this Orwellian newspeak seems to accomplish the same task, whether used for politics, business, religious life, etc. the goal seems to be to muddy the waters of understanding. Clarity comes from deliberate language. It helps us relate. It helps us understand. But political groups, better than anyone, have remarketed bad ideas with new language as a means to redefine or obfuscate the agenda. The term pro choice and marriage equality come readily to mind. Speaking in plain English is best.

  • joxxer

    Another excellent list–and I am glad our parish does not have “Eucharistic ministers”. The proper name is “Extraordinary ministers”  (to be used in extraordinary circumstances, like in a pinch) –and they were supposed to be curtailed years ago.

  • joxxer

    Amen to that–I deeply dislike that banal word–”share’!

  • nytor

    I’ve never heard “Meal of Love” but my, it’s awful -  and protestant.

  • Zmmt

    Also the Church has been using Latin for 2000 years, but the Latin used (vocabulary, grammar, syntax, etc) is standard Latin. We can translate the news of any country into Latin but the language does not become a living one on that ground. A living language is one spoken daily by its people. 

  • worker

    You all need to make a felt banner and relax.

  • Rick DeLano


  • Lazylyn

    I groan when I hear ” the sick ” as in ” Let us pray for the sick of the parish ” .

  • Benedict Carter

    You shouldn’t be doing it at all, and won’t be when I am elected Pope Sixtus IX :-)

  • Matthew J Wright

    carefully and with a very long stick :-)

  • “more should be done…”

    Thanks, friend. This looks like a turnkey solution, going forward, for those seeking answers in a post-9-11 world.

  • Herman U. Ticke

    Paul 6th definition of Holy Mass:

    “The Lord’s supper or Mass is the sacred assembly or congregation of the people of God gathering together with a priest presiding in order to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. ”

    General Instruction  on the Novus Ordo  1970
    para 7.