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.
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’.”
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.”*
Two years ago, the American Dialect Society selected hashtag as its word of the year for 2012. Last week, for its 2014 word of the year, the ADS chose an actual hashtag, #blacklivesmatter, the slogan that—as the press releaseput it—“took on special significance in 2014 after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., and the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in both cases.” It was the first time in the contest’s 25 that a hashtag had been selected for the distinction. The vote at the Hilton in Portland, Oregon, was nearly unanimous, but the response has been anything but. (“It’s not a word” and “It’s too political” were two of the negative reactions.) Read Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS New Words Committee, on the WOTY selection (and on other words discussed at the meeting). For supporting viewpoints, see Anne Curzan’s post on the Lingua Franca blog(“The linguistic work of hashtags is especially interesting”) and linguist/librarian Lauren B. Collister’s post on her own blog(“a pretty historic moment for the field of linguistics for a number of reasons”). For a dissenting view, see Schnaufblog: “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.”
“There seems to be no leading candidate for Word (or Phrase) of the Year,” writes Allan Metcalf, executive director of the American Dialect Society, in the Lingua Franca blog. That lack, he maintains, “will make discussion and voting more lively” at the ADS’s annual meeting in Portland next month. No question that the discussion will be lively—it always is—but I beg to differ about “no leading candidate.” It may not be as controversial as the 2013 selection, because, or as social-media-friendly as 2012’s hashtag, but it’s still the clear front-runner.
My submissions to the ADS vote, to be held January 9:
As usual, Oxford Dictionaries was first out of the gate, nearly a month ago, with its WOTY choices. And the winner was… vape.
As e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) have become much more common, so vapehas grown significantly in popularity. You are thirty times more likely to come across the word vape than you were two years ago, and usage has more than doubled in the past year.
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year—based on a spike in number of lookups on the dictionary’s website—is culture:
Culture is a big word at back-to-school time each year, but this year lookups extended beyond the academic calendar. The term conveys a kind of academic attention to systematic behavior and allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group: we speak of a “culture of transparency” or “consumer culture.” Culture can be either very broad (as in “celebrity culture” or “winning culture”) or very specific (as in “test-prep culture” or “marching band culture”).
This year, the use of the word culture to define ideas in this way has moved from the classroom syllabus to the conversation at large, appearing in headlines and analyses across a wide swath of topics.
Runners-up include nostalgia, insidious, legacy, and feminism.
The twentieth Kanji of the Year took a total of 8,679 votes, or 5.18% of the total 167,613. The reasons for its selection are clear: on April 1 this year the government raised Japan’s consumption tax for the first time in 17 years, bringing it from 5% to 8%. Meant to bolster funding for the country’s future social security needs, this tax hike impacted Japanese wallets and brought about drastic swings in the economy as a whole, with consumers front-loading major appliance, vehicle, and home purchases ahead of April 1 and curtailing spending after the higher rate went into effect. Two straight quarters of negative growth thereafter convinced Prime Minister Abe Shinzō to put off the next planned rate hike, from 8% to 10%, until the spring of 2017.
The German word of the year is lichtgrenze, the “border of light” created by thousands of illuminated helium balloons that were released November 9 to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall. Other words on the German list were less celebratory: “It was a year of terror, strikes, and football frenzy.”
Geoff Nunberg, the linguist-in-residence on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” picked God view as his word of the year:
It’s the term that the car service company Uber uses for a map view that shows the locations of all the Uber cars in an area and silhouettes of the people who ordered them. The media seized on the term this fall when it came out that the company had been entertaining itself and its guests by pairing that view with its customer data so it could display the movements of journalists and VIP customers as they made their way around New York.
Nunberg continued: “What we’re talking about here, of course, is the sense that the world is getting more and more creepy. …Creepy is a more elusive notion than scary. Scary things are the ones that set our imagination to racing with dire scenarios of cyberstalkers, identity thieves or government surveillance — whereas with creepy things, our imagination doesn't really know where to start.”
Also in radioland, Ben Schott presented the most ridiculous words of the year, from the ridiculous active nutrition (“sports nutrition for people who don’t exercise”) to the appalling catastrophic longevity (“insurance-speak for people living too long”). Schott writes the Jargonator column for Inc. magazine; he spoke with NPR’s “The Takeaway.” (Link includes full audio and partial transcript.)
Here’s a reminder that there are as many Englishes as there are words of the year: the Australian National Dictionary Centre selected shirtfrontas its word of the year for 2014. It’s a verb, it comes from the vocabulary of Australian Rules football, and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott used it in a threat to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin:
The term was little known outside of its sporting context, although the figurative use has been around since at least the 1980s. Abbott’s threat to shirtfront Putin, and the word itself, was widely discussed and satirised in the Australian and international media.
The ANDC’s shortlist includes man-bun, Ned Kelly beard, and coward punch.
Estivate: To spend the summer (in a special place, for example); to pass the summer in a dormant or torpid state (zoological usage). From Latin aestus, summer. Compare hibernate (to pass the winter in a dormant state).
The setting in this case is Williamstown, Mass., home to a venerable and usually star-studded summer theater festival. Anna (like Ms. Danner, as it happens) has estivated in Williamstown for many a decade.
Proofreading note: Please delete the comma after “time-consuming.”
Estify does a rambling and inept job of telling its story, but the TechCrunch story makes it clear that “Estify” comes from “estimate”:
There’s a rift between insurance companies and repair shops, explains Jordan Furniss, one of Estify’s co-founders. “[Insurers] write up a preliminary estimate for what a repair should cost and then repair shops have to duplicate that estimate into their systems.”
That means Estify joins the growing list of -ify names created from verbs: Chargify, Predictify, Chirpify, Connectify, et al.). As my colleague The Name Inspector (Christopher Johnson) has pointed out:
You don’t find -ify attached to verbs in natural English, because the point of the -ify ending is to make a verb out of a different kind of word. The only exception The Name Inspector has thought of is preachify, and he’s willing to wager that’s a tongue-in-cheek word, based on the similar word speechify, that’s meant to illustrate the kind artificially puffed-up speaking style it refers to.
And while we’re on the subject, The Name Inspector and I will be co-presenting a paper on naming trends at the American Name Society’s annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, in January. I’ll focus on names that end in -ly and Chris will tackle the -ifys. (I’ll also be giving a solo presentation on the nomenclature of legal cannabis, a topic I’ve touched on in this blog.) The ANS meeting is held concurrently with meetings of the American Linguistic Association and the American Dialect Society; an annual highlight is the word-of-the-year vote, which is open to the public. If you live in Portland or plan to be there between January 8 and 11, I’d love to meet up!
“Picking a product name is all agony and no ecstasy,” writes Trello founder Dan Ostlund (“The Agonies of Picking a Product Name”). His detailed account of his own DIY effort is a cautionary tale, although he doesn’t explain why the company felt it necessary to jettison its perfectly good placeholder name.
Top executives writing about verbal branding may be a trend now. Here’s Larry D. Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California, on how his organization developed a new tagline (“What’s in a Tagline?”):
When I first proposed reexamining the tagline, I felt almost sheepish. The Hewlett Foundation pays little attention to self-promotion (that itself is a core value here), so why bother putting time and effort into something so marginal. Instead, the project proved to be both interesting and fruitful—an opportunity to reaffirm and remind ourselves about who we are and who we want to be.
You’ll have to scroll down to the tenth paragraph to learn what the new tagline is. Otherwise, nice process story.
This parody trailer for the new Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted, aired during Sunday night’s live Golden Globes broadcast, and it was so smart and funny I wished I could hit the rewind button. AdFreak says the promo “does a double public service by also making fun of all the mass-media self-adulation that studios crank out during Hollywood awards season.”
The Oxford University Press blog has a comprehensive words-of-the-year roundup that includes words of the year in Spain, Norway, France, and elsewhere. I’m fond of “plénior,” the mot nouveau pour 2014; it’s a more positive word for “senior citizen” that implies “full of life.”
While we’re in Oxford, check out the Oxford English Dictionary birthday word generator, which scours the OED database for words’ first occurrences, 1900 through 2004, and offers up one for your birth year. If you were born in 1984, for example, your word is “shopaholic.” Happy 30th, you crazy shopper, you!
“Unneeded warnings against sentences that have nothing wrong with them are handed out by people who actually don’t know how to identify instances of what they are warning against, and the people they aim to educate or intimidate don’t know enough grammar to reject the nonsense they are offered. The blind warning the blind about a nonexistent danger.” That’s linguist Geoffrey Pullum in “Fear and Loathing of the English Passive.” It will be published later this year in the journal Language and Communication; but you can read the PDF now.Pullum cites 46 examples of tsk-tsking about “passive” constructions that aren’t passive at all.
In addition to the traditional categories (Most Useful, Most Likely to Succeed, etc.), members proposed a new category, Most Productive, for word parts that have given rise to a number of new words. (For example, -elfie has produced selfie, drelfie, and twolfie twofie.)
Quite a few of the nominations overlap with my own list, which I published last week. A couple of other words (fatberg, demised) were my words of the week during the year.* But I’m equally interested in the words I hadn’t considered, including robo sabiens, stack ranking, and struggle bus.
The final vote will take place at 5:30 today, Friday. If you’re in Minneapolis, you can join in the fun by simply showing up. If you’re playing along at home, follow Ben Zimmer on Twitter, or search for the hashtag #woty13.