December 21, 2009

WOTY Season: birthers and deathers

It's that time of the year again. Linguists, journalists, editors, and bloggers are listing their Words of the Year. In an op-ed for the Times, Mark Leibovich writes:

It was a year for birthers, deathers and Tenthers to go all nine-iron on the Obama brand. Catchphrases and buzzwords can tell us much about a year past — what resonated, what stuck, what the year revealed about the sensibility of the nation, whether you’re a wise Latina woman, a mini-Madoff, a teabagger or Balloon Boy. But if ever there were a year to put buzzwords before a death panel, this would be it, before the aporkalypse comes.

Among the words that Grant Barrett lists, many will no doubt have no staying power. Who even uses the term jeggings (jean leggings) now? (I'm not a big fan of blended words anyway.) My word of the year is not exactly a word, but rather a word formation process: Creating nouns ending on -er based on other nouns, resulting in a noun that means something like "a person who irrationally hangs on to the idea of X", such as birther, deather (Barrett defines this as "someone who believes erroneously that the government would have death panels under health care reform"), and Tenther ("A person who believes the federal govenment is mostly illegal...in violation of the 10th Amendment."). They're all cousins of truther (a person who believes that the US goverment was in charge of the 9/11 attack and feels the urge to spread the "truth"). Affix of the year? Let's call it "the crazy -er."

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