In Defense of Slacks (the Word, at Least)

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On Friday, The New Yorker's Ben Greenman kicked off a contest called Questioningly, something of a social media crowdsourcing game in which editors put forth a weekly question and ask readers to respond with "funny, witty, sharp, amusing, ingenious, or whimsical" answers by Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #tnyquestion. The first installment of the game asked, "If you could eliminate a single word from the English language, what would it be?" We, in response, asked "If you could eliminate a single word from The New Yorker, what would it be?" (We provided options ranging from coöperation to spectre to questioningly; some commenters weighed in with their own—thusly, for example.)

Now, the results are in for both contests (ours because we decided they were and goodbye, coöperation!; The New Yorker's because this had always been a planned sort of thing). Alas, the results for The New Yorker's banned words contest are distinctly...underwhelming. What terrifying, putrid, gobbledygook of a disgruntled word specimen was cast out from the communication fold? 

SLACKS. Yes, slacks. Those are pants. Those are things that First Ladies, some of them, in times of "progress," have been known to wear. They're trousers but not, and certainly not jeans, or leggings, or jeggings, or tights. They're slacks. It's a word our grandma used to use—"How did you get all these grass stains on your new slacks?" They're evocative, mostly, of khakis, but possibly pantsuits too. When the word is stretched out, "Have you seen my slaaaaacks?" it is particularly resonant, and possibly multisyllabic. If made into a gerund, the word means something entirely different. One who slacks does not necessarily wear slacks: Such a person is more likely to wear PJs. Slacks! It is a good, solid, reasonable word. A name for something. It's as American as apple pie, as fashionable as, well, that depends on where you bought them. Slacks as a word does not bear the transcontinental dishonor of actually meaning underpants in certain cultures. Also, slacks: Easier to spell and less high-falutin' than trousers. Slackety-slackety, clackity-clackity, this word has a place in the canon! The Gap and Banana Republic and American Apparel ALL love slacks. Try getting them to change that. 

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Alas, The New Yorker says no. We must ban slacks, instead of banning nearly universally troubling words like moist,  Kardashian, and literally. Slacks instead of epic and phlegm. The reason, Greenman explained, was to stay modern. "We zeroed in on a set of suggestions that sought to update the language of everyday fashion," arguing that slacks (and its cousin trousers) had "overstayed their welcome." (But we're still wearing them! Awkward!) Pantaloons lives on, yet slacks must die. Slacks, even, instead of comorbid, whatever in the world that means. Slacks. Slacks. Slacks. 


The winner of the winning banned word selection, the first among several to suggest it go by the by, will be honored with a ceremonious putting of the word slacks on paper (by Mary Norris of The New Yorker's copy department); the paper will then be crumpled and, also ceremoniously, thrown away. "We will also ban the word from for a period of one week," reports Greenman. If you're the slack-wearing-or-writing type, take note. 

As Alexander Nazaryan of the Daily News puts it, and he has a point: "While I do not begrudge this choice and am glad to see slacks leave a language that has far too many words already, I am left wondering if there were not better words to banish." His pick: artisanal, because "There are, like, four actual artisans left in the United States, and three of them live in Vermont."

Slacks, well, that was fun. We await the next question in Questioningly with bated breath. Bated! We ban that one, too.

Inset via BoingBoing/J.C. Penney.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.