Monday, March 8, 2010

And the Winner Is . . .

The entertainment industry has the Oscar, the Emmy, the Golden Globe, and many other awards. Those of us who love words—their shape on the page, their feel in the mouth; homonyms and rhymes; connotations and denotations; their convoluted histories through the ages—also have a yearly award to look forward to: the Word of the Year.

Actually, several organizations announce a Word of the Year. The most venerable of these is the American Dialect Society's Word of the Year. The membership of the society include linguists, etymologists, grammarians, historians, writers, and other word lovers, and they vote each year for a word or phrase that is newly prominent or notable. Their 2009 Word of the Year is "tweet." Nominees included "Fail!" "public option," "H1N1," and "Dracula sneeze."

The ADS also chose a Word of the Decade: "google." That's right—they followed the common practice of demoting the capital "G" in this trade name. I shudder.

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Year is more pedestrian. No "Dracula sneeze" for M-W; the company bases its Word of the Year on the number of times a word is looked up online in M-W's online dictionary and online thesaurus. The highest-scoring word for 2009 was "admonish," followed by "emaciated," "empathy," "furlough," "inaugurate," "nugatory," "pandemic," and "philanderer." Most of these words were prominent in news stories in 2009. The exception, "nugatory," I had to look up. It means trifling or worthless.

The Oxford Word of the Year is yet another award. It's chosen by a group, like the ADS's WOTY, in this case, the staff of the New Oxford American Dictionary. For 2009, they chose "unfriend." Other words considered for the top honor were "netbook," "sexting," "funemployed," "birther," "death panel," and a long list of new coinages starting with "Obama-."

People often have strong emotions to new words and terms. What would you choose as your favorite new phrase? What current hot phrase do you despise?


Thanks for visiting. I'll be blogging at Novel Spaces again on March 23, but have not chosen a topic. So why don't you? Suggest something you'd like me to blog about, and I'll choose from among the suggestions.

—Shauna Roberts


Farrah Rochon said...

What a fun post, Shauna. It is no surprise that "tweet" is the word of the year, even though so many people have no idea what it means to "tweet" to this generation. :)

I have to come up with my own topic to blog on, so sorry, can't help you there.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Doesn't this just make you love the dynamic nature of language?

Shauna Roberts said...

FARRAH, I understand the concept of tweeting but even if you put a gun to my head I would have no idea how to do it.

JEWEL, I agree. Whenever I read a list of new coinages, I'm always impressed with how creative people are with language. Also interesting is the three Words of the Year I mentioned were all for American English, so in some way they're a measure of how much British English and American English diverge every year. (Although it would make sense if major words such as "tweet" were the same on both sides of the Atlantic.)

Liane Spicer said...

Ahh, words! Exciting!

I've recently discovered 'chillax' and quite like it. On the other hand, I can't abide 'unfriend' - although I've been known to use it.