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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.

  • Profxtjb

    Please!  Don’t blame it on Americans.  We get an entire misbegotten language from you British!  You guys could not make up your mind about being a Germanic language or a Romance language, so you have swilled them into a real indigestibly delectable mix, like green Jell-O with fruit cocktail embedded in it.  I bet it was some numbered Earl of Duncasterbridgeshire who invented that mess, and now every protestant housewife in America makes up a batch for every pot luck dinner.

    Or, as semi-American Winston Churchill once said, two peoples separated by a common language! But it is true that there are some tiresome words used by the Church, many from America, and you have pointed a stick at many of them.  Thank you.

    But you have to admit, there are also some great American phrases, too:

    1. Two shooters on the grassy knoll
    2. Elvis ain’t dead.
    3. You ain’t going crazy — it’s all in your head.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    The one that I’d like to see disappear is “authentic”, as in “authentic understanding”, “authentic teaching”, “authentic experience” etc.

  • Marius

    Announcing ‘our hymn is’ when it is far from being a hymn.
    ‘Social justice’ is a code word for ‘supporting inner city organizations that support abortion’

  • Benedict Carter

    Here’s a further list of words/phrases from the modern Church that make me vomit:

    Calling hymns “songs”.Using the word “ordain” about the consecration of a Bishop.Modern ManEmpowering the laityPersonal relationship with JesusChurch structuresMaking the Church relevantTaliban CatholicI invite you to …. (add a hippy phrase of your choice)Place of women in the ChurchThe Church’s sinsLiturgyLiturgical expertJoyDecide according to your conscience (BC – almost always unformed, due to un-Catholic catechesis)Liberation from …. (add your own political opinion)Elder brothers in the faithFellow ChristiansDiocesan spokesman/woman/person/dogNiceVatican IISacrament of Reconciliation

  • Female Volunteer

    “work to rule” and “with-holding labour”, just two phrases i am employing in response.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     That sounds a bit ‘divisive’.

  • f higgins

    “Folk Group” Always sends a shiver down the spine.

  • Topendview

    disagree Fr. Alexander’s view
    of many words he mentioned.  For example, he viewed Faith “Formation” as
    “Training.”  He was totally off the faith development on the growth of priests
    and all Christians.  Although part of the growth comes from learning and
    training, but the core is the relationship growing between a human being and
    God.  That is definitely not from “training.”  

  • Benedict Carter

    Yes, “Presider” should be the very first word on any Catholic’s hate list.

    What happened to the PRIEST, who sacrifices for (in the first place) his own santification and (secondly) for the faithful? And forgives sins? Who stands in persona Christi? And who is “another Christ”?

    Blown away in the maelstrom of protestantisation of the Church and the willful destruction of the priesthood. 

  • Lewispbuckingham

     Without wishing to make a blunderbuss response I am sure that when all things are considered, at the end of the day, on balance, that we all want to follow Jesus, and those things that unite us are greater than those that divide us, which should be considered when about to cross the Tiber.

  • rjt1

    You might be ‘unfriended’ instead

  • brendan

    I joined the religious life over 68 years ago.  The word “formation” was in common use then as, e.g. in the expression “houses of formation”.  Haggis95 is right.  There is a big difference between training and formation.  priests and religious need to be formed, to conform themselves to Christ.

  • Julien Chilcottmonk

    I too have been fighting this battle for years. These words and modes of speech certainly debase the English tongue but when used in the Church, they draw a curtain of fog over whatever the speaker thinks he means.
    Julien Chilcott-Monk

  • Cjm1957

    Roman – I’m not a Roman Catholic, I’m an English (of Irish descent) Catholic.

  • semlad

    Just seen an advert in this week’s edition for a “retreat facilitator’, Why not “retreat organiser/administrator”? A facilitator is someone, who makes things easy, as any latinist will know. Perhaps I am wrong and they do want to make retreats easy!

  • Ikelenge

    Roadmap for planning

  • jdhummerstone

    The correct term is extraordinary…
    “Extraordinary” is another term to avoid, despite – or perhaps because – it is “correct”.

  • Paul

    I think I know what you’re getting at here, and believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of questionable parish activity, but I don’t know if this tone is so effective. There is and maybe always will be internal issues in the Church, but as the Bride of Christ, we should always try to defend her and all her members and seek to heal divisions not exacerbate them. There is much to complain about in the way things are run in parishes these days but we should view all our brothers and sisters with charity and understanding and focus our energy on praying that these problems be resolved. Just a thought.

  • Tom

    This is a very sad article and the responses are mostly worse.

  • Richard

    I hate the word “space”. Yesterday I was at Mass for the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, who he just called Vincent by the way, and the priest mentioned that the Church was a space…as in a space to worship, community space. Such a new age sound to it. A space suggests it is all about “me” and “us”, we are Church, cosmic Christ mumbo jumbo. When will these new age heretics learn that it’s about Him!

  • Richard

    Oh and another one… tradition.

  • Richard

    Confucius was once asked if he had authority what would be the first thing he would do. His response was that he would restore the true meaning of words. Interesting that the mumbo-jumbo in the Church has come about because of the loose meaning or categories of meaning and words.

  • E Grech

    Some people outside our faith ,say service instead of The Mass

  • Cjm1957

    Would you throw out Pope John XXIII who said many of these terms?

  • JuniusJuniorII

    All this reminds me of how, in the very Protestant church to which I belonged in my youth some 45 years ago, when describing some of the  terminology used by a few of our seniors, we sometimes jokingly but unkindly spoke of  their using “The Handbook of Evangelical Claptrap” by “Hal E Luja”, .  It  seems that some think the RCC has a not dis-similar problem today!

    Seriously, though, any group of people will, over time, develop a specialised vocabulary for conveying specific concepts, beliefs, practices etc, and within the group, that precious vocabulary will usually be well understood.  Equally, it will be quickly learned by and become precious to any newcomers, if they are properly nurtured.

    The problem is when members of the group try to communicate with those outside itself, especially those from a different background.  Rather than adopting the ugly neologisms daily created by the surrounding culture, surely those who, with the Holy Spirit’s help, attempt to convey the Good News of Jesus Christ to non-believers, must do so in the same, or similarly simple and homely terms and verbal images, as He did, two thousand years ago.

  • MaryAnne

     I agree: my Catholicism is of Celtic background. Why are all Catholics perceived to be ‘Roman’? My part of Australia was an Irish mission until somewhere in the 1960s, hence we had many excellent irish priests and even an Irish bishop. In Israel, we are termed ‘Latins’ although you have to go to the Benedictines at Abu Ghosh to hear the language used liturgially. I also have a pet hatred of the Mass being called a ‘service’ and/or being written with a lower case m.

  • Benedict Carter

    The post-Vatican II Church has invented a whole new vocabulary to teach the New Theology. This is the problem.

  • Rev Dr. Paul McLachlan

    “In the name of the Father etc” with a flick of the wrist, as if a bothjering fly. What does it mean?t if the greatest sign given to men! Angels may stop you at the door of the church and ask: “On whose authority are you here?” And you being aware of where you are say: “In the name of the Father”, and mean it!

    Another point: what is Holy Water? That bowl of dirty water at the door of the church! Why hasn’t someone been asked to clean the bowl after each Mass, to give the use some meaning!

    The Blessed Sacrament is over there in the Blessed Sacrament chapel; then why do people genuflect any which way. If the Cross is on or above the altar genuflect towards it. If as most do thjese days come late to whom or to rwhere do you genuflect. Towards the priest because he is speaking and the Mass ‘ heaven on earth’ has begun so the Father is present listening to the words of the priest. Didn’t you know that? Yes, the priest is not speaking to you but to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

  • Kevin

    Another phrase suggested for banishment is:
    While that is indeed the traditional teaching of the Church, our understanding of the subject has deepened.

    This is a device for overturning the traditional teaching of the Church.

  • Rpienne

    I didn’t think it was a sad article: it made me roar with laughter.
    What about

    Iconic, vulnerable, reflect and reflection, support, “take time to……”

    Most modern Catholics talk entirley in jargon, so get your average modern Catholic and listen or read a modern Catholic piece of writing and you’ll get them all.

  • Benedict Carter

    Exactly right, Kevin.

  • Dominic

    My vote goes for the word ‘Church’ used without the definite article ass in ‘We are Church’, ‘being Church’ or ‘doing Church’.  Lord save us from these grammatical horrors!! . 

  • Dominic

    The gremlins got me – I typed my own grammatical horror :-) Read ‘as’ not ‘ass’ :-)

  • Chookwoman

    One bite at a time!?

  • Prefrontalcortex

     Check your neuroscience about feelings. All thought is feeling (and that’s hard science). Want the references, happy to supply. Your “rationality” is just another superstition I’m afraid.

  • Uppercreggan

    lot of validity in the observations made in this article but as against that  it can also be true that a lot of the richness of any language can lie in its versatility i.e. the many and varied ways given words can convey a meaning. The article advocates plain speaking but in doing so it manages to be a bit cynical about alternative  words/styles available in language usage to convey meaning.

  • Rizzo the Bear

    Loving the reference to what we in the UK call ‘The Batty Book Library’:

    The Handbook of Evangelical Claptrap by Hal E Luja


    Here are two more…

    The End of Days by R McGeddon

    Happy-Clappy Hippy Clown Masses by Brother Lee Love

  • Rizzo the Bear



    About as relevant and trendy as kidney soup.

  • Little Black Censored

     “Proper formation however changes the person…”
    That is why the phrase is so sinister and unpleasant.

  • Little Black Censored

     What about “yep”?

  • ctd

    “Social justice” is used repeatedly in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and other church teaching documents.  Don’t ban it just because it is misused.  That is acting no different than iconoclasts.

  • Maria Angela

    The author of this article sounds incredibly jaded and it’s disappointing that we mock things that can be meaningful for people who aren’t as spiritually awesome as we are.

  • Kathy Visintainer

    Time, Talent and Treasure!  Aaaauuuugggghhhhh – please God, make it stop!

  • Catharine Duncan

    ~snort!~  Yes, I think they are.  :-D

  • Catharine Duncan

    Noooo!  I just got finished wrapping my brain around the new language that IS Roman Catholicism (don’t try to tell me there’s not one!); I am not ready for someone to start banning phrases!  Though I do dislike having certain ones used inappropriately, like the “Spirit of Vatican II” used as a springboard for trying to do away with longstanding Traditions or Doctrines of the Faith (oops, I think that’s eerily similar to one commentor’s pet peeve).  :-)  But then I also bristle when people disparage “guitar mass”–the notion seeming to be that the guitar is an inferior musical instrument, and unworthy of our Lord.  Um. . . I’m sorry, but my parish is extremely small and doesn’t have a (working) organ or Gregorian chant choir (?).  What we do have is a couple ladies who know how to play a guitar.  So that’s what we use.  Get off your high orthodox horse (if this is you) and stop looking down your nose at us.

  • Mr Grumpy

    I will address your concerns and issues prayerfully, Father.

  • Ronald King

    Happy to see someone who has current knowledge of advances in neuroscience.  It is a shame that these advances in knowledge are not utilized by the church to improve communications and relationships with those who are considered secular and a threat.

  • Suzanne Fortin

    “Gather”. We’re always “gathering”. I’m not there to “gather” or “assemble”. I’m there to worship!

  • C.C.

    catechesis, Hermeneutic and extraordinary are my first !

  • Rizzo the Bear

    It’s not sad – it’s the truth!