Technology, politics, and the economy dominate my list this year. Oh, and the undead.
- new or newly popular in 2009
- widely or prominently used in 2009
- indicative or reflective of the popular discourse.
No brand names on this list: Brands of the Decade and Brands of the Year are coming soon. UPDATE: Read my Brands of the Decade post.
In alphabetical order:
App: Once used mostly by coding geeks and by business types seeking the "killer app." Became widespread thanks to relentless "There's an app for that" iPhone ads. (Note: Your new app is probably not this APP.)
Birther: A person who, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, refuses to believe that President Obama is a native-born U.S. citizen. In November, language maven Leslie Savan wrote in the New York Times about birther and other -er words such as truther: The -er suffix, she said, can "turn a simple noun" into a "handy partisan put-down."
Cougar: A woman (generally over 40) who pursues younger men. Two 2009 TV debuts, the "reality" show The Cougar and the rather enjoyable sitcom Cougar Town (with Courteney Cox), raised the word's profile.
Curate: It's not just for museums anymore. A more elegant (or just pretentious) way of saying "select and organize," curate is now used by boutiques, nightclubs, and even journalists to describe their activities. “The Daily Beast doesn’t aggregate,” says editor Tina Brown of her (let's face it) news-aggregator website. “It sifts, sorts, and curates.”
Death panel: Coined by less-than-one-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to foment alarm about a provision of a proposed health-insurance-reform bill. The provision called for end-of-life counseling, which is to the medical profession what the writing of wills is to the legal profession. Death panel is similar in inflammatory tone and effect to "death tax," another misnomer (in this case, in reference to the estate tax).
Layaway: An old retail policy that made a comeback this year, as customers belatedly began rethinking the wisdom of hefty credit-card finance charges. Sears brought back its layaway plan in late 2008; Toys R Us followed suit in October 2009.
Mancession: A recession (like the current one) that hurts men more than women. Read more.
Meep: Invented expletive is banned by a Massachusetts high school principal in November; immediately becomes Topic A among culture pundits, linguists, and (of course) high school students and their parents. Read what Language Log, Erin McKean, and John McIntyre had to say. Meepin' marvelous.
Socialize: In corporate America, socialize is the jargon-y new way to say "talk about": "Let's socialize this report and see what people say." It may owe its popularity to the rise of social media. Meanwhile, in other quarters, socialize was hauled out of the dustbin of history and slapped onto any plan emanating from the Obama White House. Its use in this context would startle Marx or Engels; e.g., this blunt-force book title: Barack Obama's Plan to Socialize America and Destroy Capitalism. (See: Tea Party.)
Swine flu: Attempts to rebrand it with the more scientific H1N1 label were unsuccessful.
Tea Party: An anti-tax movement ("tea" is sometimes acronymized as Taxed Enough Already) that arose in opposition to the Obama presidency. Derives its name from the 1773 Boston Tea Party, a colonists' revolt. Throughout the year, Tea Partiers (who claim to be leaderless, unless you consider media personages Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as leaders) staged rallies and town-hall protests. Adherents originally called themselves "teabaggers" until they were informed of that term's naughty meaning. "Teabag" is still used by TP detractors; it's occasionally seen as "D-Bag," short for douchebag, a runner-up Word of the Year.
Under water: Where many U.S. home owners were this year, metaphorically: their homes were worth less than the balance on their mortgages.
Vampire: Twilight. True Blood. The Vampire Diaries. Need more evidence? Baby Name Wizard's Name of the Year is "Renesmee," the half-human, half-vampire (humpire?) child of the Twilight series' protagonists.