Do not use this word!

Banned words, trademarked expressions, culturally insensitive terms: Choosing the wrong word can damage a brand’s reputation, even carry legal consequences. And the expectations and requirements vary not only with language, but also with culture.

Text by Saul Carliner


Image: © Sophie Walster/

Legally banned words vs. trademarks

A translator once asked me for a list of “banned” words: expressions to avoid when writing technical documentation in English for the U.S. The U.S. legally only forbids a handful of words and even then, only in a particular context that has little relevance to most technical communicators. These words, primarily established through court decisions, only apply to broadcast television and radio, and generally do not apply to subscription services such as cable and satellite radio.

Late comedian George Carlin popularized the list in his “seven dirty words” routine, which has since become part of American culture. (Check “seven dirty words” on YouTube and Wikipedia for details, and visit the U.S. Federal Communication Commission’s page on obscene, indecent, and profane broadcasts).

By contrast, organizations can legally register terms as a trade or ...