January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

We have now moved into serious Word of the Year territory. The American Dialect Society has presented some of its WOTY candidates (the vote will take place on Jan. 7). A Word of The Year should be
  • new or newly popular in 2010
  • widely or prominently used in 2010
  • indicative or reflective of the popular discourse
Usually, the most entertaining words or expressions are nominated in the subcategories "most unnecessary," "most outrageous" (think 'death panel'), "most euphemistic" word of the year.

So what are some of the words that linguists have nominated?

Update Jan. 7, 2011: You can now see a list of the words nominated in the "minor categories"here.

Ben Zimmer, producer of The Visual Thesaurus and columnist for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, lists the following words (among others): mama grizzly, to man up, shellacking, gleek, vuvuzela, static kill, hacktivism, belieber (fanatic fan of Justin Bieber, in case you're wondering), thumbo (a typo caused by thumbs-only text messaging), enhanced pat down, junk (euphemism for a man's private parts, think 'don't touch my junk'), and opt out.

Edited to add: Zimmer's final choice is "junk."

Grant Barrett, board member of the ADS and cohost of the radio show "A Way With Words," published these words in the New York Times: belieber, coffice (a coffee shop used as an office -- though I must say, I get more of a "coffin decorated with office paraphernalia" vibe), the Justin Bieber (an unflattering haircut),  halfalogue (the part of a conversation one can't help overhearing when someone makes a cell phone call in public), mamma grizzly, refudiate (the -- by now -- well-known Palinism), shellacking, poutrage (pretense outrage).

It seems that my students were doing really well! They also picked Gleek, vuvuzela, static kill and other words relating to the oil spill disaster, words relating to the pop-phenomenon Justin Bieber and to communication via cell phones. Looking at these lists, can I change my mind? I am still pretty sure that a word from politics will win in the overall category (while a word like "halfalogue" might win in the category "most creative word") , but my money is now on the more dynamic to man up or, alternatively, on getting shellacked. Both capture the machismo turn in politics that characterized this year very well, both are more versatile than, say, Tea Party, which is really just a proper name, and, last but not least, both are verbs (or rather verb forms) -- not stiff nouns or sissy adjectives.

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