December 10, 2007

woty season

It's Word of the Year season again.

When editors at the New Oxford American Dictionary recently announced that their word of the year was “locavore,” which means someone who eats locally grown food, they also became the very definition of publicity. [...]

“There are very few good ways to get publicity for a dictionary,” said Erin McKean, a lexicographer at Oxford. While publishers can rely on coverage for new entries in just-published dictionaries, some reference books go for as long as a decade between revisions. “We are constantly surveilling the language to see what new words people are coming up with,” Ms. McKean said.

Other publishers are also milking such gimmicks. [What's gimmicky about observing language change?] Merriam-Webster, a rival publisher, will announce its word of the year this week. The company enjoyed a flood of publicity after last year’s pick, “truthiness,” coined by Stephen Colbert of the “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central [Note: Merriam-Webster's word of the year is based on lookups in their online dictionary. And guess why so many people looked up "truthiness"? Because the American Dialect Society elected it WOTY in 2005.]

This year, visitors to Merriam-Webster’s Web site were invited to vote for one of 20 words and phrases culled from the most frequently looked-up words on the site and submitted by readers. Contenders include “facebook” and “vanity sizing,” the girth-accommodating practice of labeling clothes as the same size while actually making them larger. The voting ended Friday.

Webster’s New World Dictionary was the first to offer a word — er, term — of the year for 2007. It was “grass station,” a theoretical place where cars could fill up with ethanol someday.

The word-of-the-year ritual probably started with the American Dialect Society, a scholarly association whose Web site lists yearly picks as far back as 1990. This year the society will vote in January; its 2006 selection was “plutoed,” which means “to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto.”

Locavore is an excellent choice (just think of the success of books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), but I don't see that facebook is particularly new or original or that grass station has any staying power.

No comments: