December 25, 2011

Happy holidays with the first dog

People Magazine has put together a holiday-themed slideshow featuring Bo Obama. Here's a rendition of the first dog made of marshmallows and licorice:

Happy holidays!

A note on the White House holiday card: 
It's an image of Bo the first dog lying in front of a fireplace decorated with garland and a few presents and a poinsettia sitting on a table. Inside, it reads, "From our family to yours, may your holidays shine with the light of the season." To our eyes, it's pretty innocuous stuff. To Fox News and other conservative pundits, it's another front in the alleged "war on Christmas." The news channel made a ruckus this week about the card not being Christmas-y enough. But [...] the card follows a template used by most of the president's predecessors in office. George W. Bush's 2005 card featured snowy White House exterior -- with both of the Bush family's dogs in the foreground -- and the message "With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness." (All of Bush's cards, however, did feature an insert with a Bible verse.) Cards from the Reagan and Clinton eras featured similar artwork. We get that the week before Christmas is usually a little slow for news. But this feels like much ado about nothing.

December 21, 2011

WOTY: Oxford's choice

And one more: Of all the "buzzwords" of 2011, among them "occupy," "Arab Spring," and the infamous "bunga bunga," the Oxford English Dictionary chose "squeezed middle," as its word of the year -- even though this expression is a phrase rather than a word and not all that catchy.

For more fun, I think we will once again have to wait for the list of WOTY nominations published by the American Dialect Society, especially in the category "most unnecessary" (such as "refudiate") or "most euphemistic" (such as "corn sugar" or "enhanced patdown"). The ADS will hold its annual meeting in Portland Jan. 5-7.

December 17, 2011

WOTY: Merriam-Webster

As always, Merriam-Webster uses the label "word of the year" for the word that was looked up most often on its online dictionary site. This year, the word in question was "pragmatic." Unexpected, no? It doesn't seem to be related to any specific event in politics or culture that would prompt people to look it up, nor is it particularly difficult to spell.

 In any case, "pragmatic" wasn't a choice or "pick" made by M-W (as claimed, for example, by the Huffington Post), it was simply the word that had the most look-ups. A pragmatic approach, indeed, but not one that tells us a lot about dominant topics and themes in 2011.

Users can now provide feedback on why they looked up a particular word and in the case of "pragmatic," it seems that some users wanted to verify that the word has positive connotations. (The word is of Greek origin, related to the Greek word for "deed".)

It's that time of the year: WOTY

WOTY nominations are rolling in. Here's Ben Zimmer's take. He has selected five words or phrases in the categories "domestic affairs," "foreign affairs," pop culture," and "tech." Among them are the following:

  • occupy (described -- by Geoffrey Nunberg -- as "that rare linguistic phenomenon, a word that....helps to create the very thing it names.")
  • downgrade (related to the reevaluation of the U.S. debt ranking)
  • Arab Spring (not a dance piece)
  • bunga bunga (sex parties hosted by the Italian prime minister)
  • deather (people who do not believe in the official story of the killing of Osama Bin Laden)
  • tiger mom (related to the controversial book by Amy Chua)
  • humblebrag (faux humility, I suppose it can also be used as a verb)
  • FOMO ("fear of missing out" -- leading to people being glued to their Facebook screens)

There's more at the link.

(For those who care about these things: For a brief time, Ben Zimmer was the successor of William Safire as the author of "On Language," the weekly column published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine for over 30 years. As expected, Zimmer did a splendid job, acting less like a maven and more like a linguist, and yet the column was ousted from the magazine, as were other columns that made the Sunday Magazine an interesting read. Go figure. Anyway, Zimmer  has found a new home as a columnist (he also still occasionally writes for the Times, though not the Magazine) at the Boston Globe. His first column will run this weekend. Hallelujah.)

Edited to add: First column here.