I am developing a few apps right now. And my UX people are giving me language for users who are a nuisance. They want them suspended based on certain criteria on our app community.

I get back the first designs and the language says Temporarily Banned. I then google it and it is used in other apps... huh? Isn't the whole idea behind the word "Banned" that it is permanent or at least quasi-permanent?

These app bans range from 1 hour to 1 week. Isn't that Suspended?

What is the cutoff between suspended and banned? Is the phrase "temporarily banned" even proper English?

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I ban everyone from answering my question, for 10 seconds!

  • 1
    Banning can be temporary or permanent. It is generally assumed to be permanent if not otherwise specified.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 6, 2015 at 20:55
  • 1
    @HotLicks - so would the phrase temporarily permanent be OK too? Nov 6, 2015 at 20:57
  • 1
    'Suspended' might be better, but 'temporarily banned' is not self-contradiction.
    – Mitch
    Nov 6, 2015 at 21:27
  • 2
    Well, "temporary permanent", as you suggested in the above comment, is utter nonsense, but, as I said, you can use it if you want.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 6, 2015 at 21:37
  • 1
    @HotLicks - how about permanently suspended instead of banned? Nov 7, 2015 at 17:02

4 Answers 4




3. temporary abrogation or withholding, as of a law, privilege, decision, belief, etc.


verb (used with object), banned, banning. 1. to prohibit, forbid, or bar; interdict:

Basically, a suspension is temporary and to be banned is usually taken as being permanent. So, "temporarily banned", is another way of saying suspended.

  • So you are accepting of using "negative" indicators to convey the opposite of a definition - or at least new meaning? Can I say opposite white instead of black? Nov 6, 2015 at 21:26
  • I think you're encountering a denotation/connotation mismatch. The definition of banned is simply to prohibit. The connotation might usually be that it's permanent, but that's not what the definition is. By modifying the word "banned" with "temporary", it makes it explicit that there is a limited duration.
    – mgw854
    Nov 6, 2015 at 21:31
  • 3
    or......*dark white* instead of black?? No, I am not accepting of this use of English, except in creative writing. However, regarding your posted question, I really don't think that temporary and banned have opposite connotations. The adjective temporary qualifies the noun banned, giving the reader more information as to what type of banning is taking place. So in other words, in English, "temporarily banned" is just as effective as saying "suspended", except I would think that saying "user suspended", is easier and shorter than saying "user temporarily banned".
    – JCG
    Nov 6, 2015 at 21:39
  • So then a better example would be permanently suspended or suspended for life. Does that make sense? Are we OK with using an adjective to subjectively change the meaning of a word when there is already a word that means that? Nov 7, 2015 at 8:10

No, the whole idea behind the word "Banned" is NOT permanent nor at least quasi-permanent.

This BBC News article uses the verb "banned" as an opposite to "allowed" to list a different category which is allowed and "banned".

While ordinary tourism is still banned, the new regulations will allow US citizens to travel to Cuba for any of a dozen specific reasons without first obtaining a special licence from the government.

"Ordinary toursim" which has been banned for around 55 years could be lifted anytime when Congress decides to do so. There is no connotation of being "permanent" or "quasi-permanent" as you can read 55-year-old ban was partially lifted by the US President.

The verb "ban" means :

Officially or legally prohibit (something): ‘parking is banned around the harbour in summer

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

The above is the first usage example in the dictionary. "Banned" is used for the prohibition of parking to be implemented "only temporarily" in Summer.

You can ban/allow something temporarily and reverse it no matter how long you ban/allow it. There is no cutoff between "banned" and "suspended" and it is subjective and arbitrary. "Banned" is stronger in meaning than "suspended" and "suspended" has a stronger connotation of possibility that something "not allowed" would be lifted sooner than "banned".


When did 'temporarily banned' begin to be used in written English?

The notion that something might be "temporarily banned" seems not to have occurred to any published writer until the 1900s. A Google Search for the terms "temporarily ban" (blue line), "temporarily banned" (red line), and "temporarily banning" (green line) yields the following Ngram chart for the years 1800–2005:

The earliest match for the any of the three phrases is from "Letter of Instructions embodying the Reforms decided upon, drawn up by the Commission appointed for the Purpose of Inquiring into the Working of the Custom-house Porters of Constantinople," in Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons (1907):

Such [disputants] as are recalcitrant, or as are shown to the Administration to have misbehaved themselves, as well as "kol-bashis" or "keïssé-dars" or porters who shall insult or behave with violence or insolence towards merchants or persons having business at the custom-house, shall be temporarily banned by the guild for periods proportionate to the degree of their offence and, in case of repetition shall be reported by the Director-General to the deputation for expulsion from the custom-house.

Here "temporarily banned" means something like "expelled with possibility of future reinstatement," or more simply "banished for a fixed term."

The next-earliest Google Books match is from Bradstreet's Weekly: A Business Digest (June 21, 1913):

Notwithstanding the disposition of leading American banking concerns to follow the example given by similar interests in London, where the underwriting and presentation of new bond issues for subscription has been temporarily banned, high rate, short-term note issues are still being brought out with a certain amount of confidence in the public's ability and readiness to absorb such investments.

Here we might have expected to see "temporarily prohibited" in place of "temporarily banned."

But though "temporarily banned" may go no farther back than 1907, "temporarily banished" yields matches from more than a century earlier. Here is the Ngram chart for "temporarily banish" (blue line), "temporarily banished" (red line), and "temporarily banishing" (green line) for the years 1800–2005:

In this case the earliest match is from Helen Williams, Sketches of the State of Manners and Opinions in the French Republic, volume 1 (1801):

And when was this boasted clemency exercised towards others, who were momentarily detained, or temporarily banished? M. Mallet has omitted to mark the precise date, but we can find evidence of the epocha in an edict, the authority of which he will not dispute, published by the government of Berne, the 15th of June, 1797, in which, on the supplication of Bonaparte, the Senate not only rehabilitated the memory of General Laharpe, condemned to the scaffold, and returned his confiscated property, but granted "an amnesty and general pardon to all who, implicated in the procedures of 1791 and 1792, were punished, or had become fugitives from their country."

And the next-earliest match is from an 1802 translation of Jean Louis Giraud Soulavie, Historical and Political Memoirs of the Reign of Lewis XVI (1802):

"... The Genevese insurgents are, on the contrary, governed and mis-led by a few wretches in the pay of Great-Britain, who have instilled into them the strange idea of blowing up Geneva, if they could not govern it. When the marquis of Jaucourt has wholly or temporarily banished them, they will retire to London; but I shall have preserved Geneva: it will not be destroyed by gunpowder: this I have promised the king."

It seems to me that neither the idea of temporarily banning people or things, nor the idea of temporarily banishing them is incoherent or self-contradictory. Nevertheless, "temporarily banish/banished/banishing" yields no Google Books matches from before 1801, and "temporarily ban/banned/banning" yields no such matches from before 1907. Before those dates, for whatever reason, English speakers and writers appear to have used other wordings to convey the sense "to prohibit or to expel without right of return for a specified or indefinite period of time, but not permanently."

Banning for a fixed amount of time

In a comment appended to this answer, RyeɃreḁd has suggested that "temporarily banned" may be acceptable only if it refers to a suspension of indefinite duration. To test this proposition, I ran searches for "banned for a year" and "banned for one year"—expressions that impose what amounts to a suspension of a specific length. The earliest instance of "banned for a year" that I've been able to find is from The Waterways Journal (1943), where it appears as a subhead:

Banned For a Year

It was believed that if a time limit is placed on the forms anyone violating the law would be banned from the rivers for a year.

And the earliest match for "banned for one year" is from The Literary Digest (1937) [combined snippets]:

To entrench his dictatorship, Colonel Franco banned, for one year, all activities by political groups "not emanating from the Revolution" he headed. He suffered only the National Independent Party, which had backed him, and the National Revolutionary Party, which he formed formed after its Mexican prototype, to exist.

This instance of "banned for one year" in connection with a dictate of Francisco Franco is replicated in The World Almanac & Book of Facts (1937), though with different surrounding wording. As events unfolded, an attempted revolt within the year of the original ban "gave President Franco a much-needed excuse to continue indefinitely the ban against the opposition parties"—but this wording reinforces the notion that a ban may be temporary (in this case, for a specified period) or indefinite (with no fixed or promised rescission).

An instance of "banned for the year," however, appears in a story about signing up for the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, "Many Special Prizes Offered for Dog Show", in the New York Tribune (January 27, 1918):

All entries close to-morrow, but those bearing that postmark will be received for a reasonable period. Under no conditions, however, will an entry be accepted after tp-morrow, and when the clock reveals midnight has been passed by even a second all new entries are banned for the year.

This last example may be seen as a poor wording of the idea "all new entries for the year are banned," but the later examples of "banned for one year" and "banned for a year" cited above clearly use banned in the sense of "prohibited" and specify a precise duration, meaning that in both instances banned could equivalently be expressed as suspended.

  • In your examples of temporarily banned(ished) it still seems the word ban refers to an indefinite stop - where you correctly pointed out that temporary in front of it means that it would be considered in the future. The use case I am giving knows of the time period yet still uses the word ban. Is someone being suspended for one day make grammatical sense to say "temporarily banned". Nov 10, 2015 at 14:30
  • @RyeɃreḁd: I did some further research in response to your comment. See the new section I added above.
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 10, 2015 at 19:07
  • Do you think there is a cut-off time period where it would be acceptable to say temporarily banned vs suspended? Not sure how we would go about it but does banned for 10 minutes work, banned for a day, banned for a month, and so on. Nov 10, 2015 at 19:41
  • @RyeɃreḁd: I think it gets progressively silly to use "temporarily banned"—or for that matter, "suspended"—as the duration of the prohibition or punishment gets shorter and shorter, culminating in the "banned for 10 seconds" restraint mentioned in the OP's final sentence. But once we accept (as seems to have happened in current English usage) that there is no clean, nonoverlapping divide between "ban" and "suspend," everything becomes a matter of degree.
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 10, 2015 at 19:55
  • But when does it get completely silly? I mean I was asked to assign the banning to 1 day. Is that silly or OK? Do we have a good-to-use, gray area, and then totally ridiculous scale? Nov 10, 2015 at 20:08

Definitions from merriam-webster.com:

ban: to prohibit especially by legal means ban discrimination; also : to prohibit the use, performance, or distribution of ban a book, ban a pesticide;

suspend: to debar temporarily especially from a privilege, office, or function suspend a student from school.

As such, [temporarily] banned should refer to the prohibited activity, whereas [temporarily] suspended should refer to the excluded person. The use of temporarily is a valid modifier in either case. There is, however, extensive common usage of the phrase "you've been banned ...", as a google search would attest.

If we look at the etymology of the word ban in etymonline.com, we find:

Main modern sense of "to prohibit" (late 14c.) is from Old Norse cognate banna "to curse, prohibit," and probably in part from Old French ban, which meant "outlawry, banishment," among other things (see banal) and was a borrowing from Germanic. The sense evolution in Germanic was from "speak" to "proclaim a threat" to (in Norse, German, etc.) "curse."

The legal aspect of being banned seems to be an important part of its meaning, and suggests that banning is a more serious state than suspension.

So in relation to your question about the cutoff between banning and suspension, it would appear that an exercise of existing provisions would fit suspension better, whereas you might escalate that to banning if you change the rules so that the person is outlawed from that community. This seems excessive for the short time-frame of 1 hour to 1 week that you mentioned, so temporarily suspended would be a more fitting term in your context.

As temporarily is part of the definition of suspended, the app should instead just print suspended, or you have been suspended for [length of time].

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