January 10, 2015

#blacklivesmatter Word of the Year

What a letdown! The American Dialect Society voted #blacklivesmatter as Word of the Year. Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee, offers the following argument:

“While #blacklivesmatter may not fit the traditional definition of a word, it demonstrates how powerfully a hashtag can convey a succinct social message... Language scholars are paying attention to the innovative linguistic force of hashtags, and #blacklivesmatter was certainly a forceful example of this in 2014.”
Yes, yes, yes,  crowning a hashtag WOTY certainly draws attention to the innovative linguistic force of hashtags (as does creating the category "hashtag of the year") and  #blacklivesmatter was certainly one of the most relevant hashtags of the year, and yes, there are many linguists who won't make a conceptual distinction between words, phrases, and sentences (they are all "constructions"), but call me old school -- I like the idea of a word as a combination of form (sound, gesture, writing) and meaning (lexical or grammatical) that can combine with other words according to the rules of grammar to form a clause. Hashtags don't have that function, the word "hashtag," on the other hand (WOTY 2013) does.

Alas, a glance at the list of nominations shows that the pool of candidates this year was rather ...shallow.  "Ebola" as a most useful word? "Plastiglomorate" as one of the words most likely to succeed? After last year's vote (for the construction "because NP/AP," which is certainly a cool innovative construction, but not A WORD), I really would have liked to see a better record of linguistic innovation that doesn't require us to really streeeeeetch the meaning of "word."

Edited to add: WOTY goes Style Section of the NY Times ("At the Super Bowl of Linguistics).

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