VORP: An acronym for “value over replacement player.” Coined by baseball statistician Keith Woolner circa 2001 as a way to measure “how much a hitter contributes offensively or how much a pitcher contributes to his team in comparison to a fictitious ‘replacement player,’ who is an average fielder at his position and a below average hitter” (definition source: Wikipedia).
In the years since Woolner invented VORP, the term has been adopted by tech startups as a means of grading employees, writes Dan Lyons in Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, a memoir published earlier this month. Lyons, who had been laid off at 52 from a reporting job at Newsweek, considered himself lucky to be hired as a “marketing fellow” by a 10-year-old Boston company called HubSpot, which sells “software that lets companies, most of them small businesses like pool installers and flower shops, sell more stuff.” (The company line, writes Lyons: “Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s antispam. It’s a shield against spam—a spam condom. HubSpot has even created a promotional campaign, with T-shirts that say make love not spam.”) Lyons had spent most of his career writing about technology, and knew nothing about marketing. Still, he needed a job and prided himself on being a quick study. Besides, as he writes in a New York Times op-ed: “I thought working at a start-up would be great. The perks! The cool offices!”
“From the very first moment I heard of the .io TLD a few years ago, I thought it was absolutely fantastic. The geek in me just really responded to the idea of a domain name that ended in IO - the input/output connotation seemed like a perfect fit for web services.” In praise of the .io domain extension. (Russell Beattie)
Bill Simmons, who was ousted by his ESPN overlords from the sports-and-pop-culture site Grantland (which ESPN later shut down, to the general wailing and weeping of the site’s many fans), is starting a new site that promises to be similar to Grantland. He’s calling it The Ringer. Here’s his account of how he arrived at the name, apparently without any professional help, poor fellow. (Hat tip: Lance Knobel)
And for those of you who, like me, care about journalism and its future, here’s “Confessions of a Sponsored Content Writer,” by Jacob Silverman for The Baffler. I hope he was well paid for it, because it’s dynamite, but given the doleful state of affairs he reveals, it’s unlikely. Here’s a tiny excerpt:
But as journalists imitate advertisers and advertisers imitate (and hire) journalists, they are converging on a shared style and sensibility. Newsfeeds and timelines become constant streams of media—a mutating mass of useless lists, videos, GIFs, viral schlock, service journalism, catchy charts, and other modular material that travels easily on social networks—all of it shorn of context. Who paid for this article, why am I seeing it, am I supposed to be entertained or convinced to buy something? The answers to these questions are all cordoned off behind the algorithmic curtain.
Stuart Elliott, who used to be the New York Times’s advertising columnist, now writes about ads for Media Village. Here’s his take on the commercials that aired during Super Bowl 50. (“Though it's the biggest feel-good day of the year, Madison Avenue tried hard to bring viewers down – not only with those commercials, but also with spots with strange, off-putting and downright weird characters and premises.”
The WOTY party has begun, and I’m arriving fashionably (or maybe just breathlessly) late. Back in early November, Allan Metcalf nominated basic for the honor; a couple of weeks later Dennis Baron, aka Dr. Grammar, anointed singular they and Oxford Dictionaries selected an emoji, “Face with Tears of Joy.” Merriam-Webster, which chooses its WOTY based on volume of online lookups, selected -ism. The spoofy Emmett Lee Dickinson Museum (named after “Emily’s third cousin, twice removed – at her request”) has been posting one WOTY candidate every day in December, along with runners-up. (I confess I’d never heard of Dick Poop, but I like it.) And over at the Visual Thesaurus (where I’m a contributing writer), Ben Zimmer has nominated a couple dozen notable words that surfaced this year in science, business, news, and pop culture.
not a peeve or a complaint about overuse or misuse.
Word of the year: Refugee
Most useful: Mx.
Most likely to succeed: Ghosting
Least likely to succeed: Left shark
Euphemism of the year: Netflix and chill
Most creative: Shipping
Most outrageous: Measles party, schlonged (tie – it was an outrageous year!)
Most unnecessary: Microaggression
Most productive: -shaming
Read on for the full WOTY list – 20 words in all – and brief definitions. Words previously featured on this blog are linked to the relevant posts. And follow the American Dialect Society for news of its WOTY vote on January 8.
The American Name Society is accepting nominations for Names of the Year, with the winners to be announced at the society’s annual meeting in Washington, DC, on January 8, 2015. Anyone can play; submit your nominations before January 5.
Here are my own nominations in the categories established by ANS – names “that best illustrate, through their creation and/or use during the past 12 months, important trends in the culture of the United States and Canada.” My top picks are *starred.
With 8 percent of 2015 still in the mysterious future, the first Word of the Year (WOTY) nominations have already begun. Oxford Dictionaries made history, and stirred up some controversy, by selecting an emoji – “Face with Tears of Joy” – as its, um, lexical unit of the year. (Emoji was a Fritinancy Word of the Week in January 2012.)
And at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Lingua Franca blog, Allan Metcalf – he’s the executive secretary of the American Dialect Society – makes the case for basic: “the word this year to describe someone or something that fits a stereotype, especially the ‘basic white girl’.”
Skulduggery: Underhanded or unscrupulous behavior; a devious device or trick.
This relative rare and interesting word has been in the news last week in connection with a football furor: after the opening game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaches “said their headsets were filled with the sounds of the Patriots’ radio broadcast of the game, making it hard to communicate with one another,” according to a New York Times story published September 12. An earlier version of the story – no longer visible on the Times site – contained the mention of skulduggery, as a Google search shows:
My new column for the Visual Thesaurus looks at the shifting and varied meanings of special—a word that can mean particular, extraordinary, dear, and having an intellectual disability. I consider special delivery, BlueLight Special, Afterschool Special, and more.
By the time Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a sister of President John F. Kennedy, founded the Special Olympics in 1968, the association of “special” with “mentally challenged” was firmly established. If anything, it was the word “Olympics” that was controversial: the U.S. Olympic Committee holds a tight grip on the word, but in 1971 it granted official approval—a special dispensation, you might say—to the Special Olympics.
Special Olympics, special needs, and special education are just a few examples of the exceptional flexibility of special. Since it first crossed the English Channel from France in the 13th century, special has taken on multiple meanings—particular, remarkable, dear—and become part of dozens of idioms and expressions, from special relativity in physics to special magistrate, special pleading, and special prosecutor in law; from special effects in TV and movies (earliest usage: 1909) to special teams in US football. Its literal meaning, from Latin specialis, is “individual” or “particular,” as opposed to “general.” (Compare the related words species and genus.) But its extended meanings range far and wide.
The fourteenth Special Olympics begins July 25 in Los Angeles. Its theme song, “Fly,” was written and performed by Avril Lavigne, who has said “her struggle with Lyme disease inspired her to work on the project.” The singer was bedridden for five months. She does not, however, have any lingering mental or intellectual disabilities.
Blog bonus #2:
“Isn't that special”: Dana Carvey as Church Lady, “Saturday Night Live.”
Laches: Negligence in the performance of a legal duty; delay in asserting a right, claiming a privilege, or making application for redress. “Laches is not to be confused with the ‘statute of limitations,’ which sets specific periods to file a lawsuit for types of claims (negligence, breach of contract, fraud, etc.)” – Law.com. Pronunciation is similar to “latches.”*