End of the year, end of the decade. Time to do some retrospecting, don't you think? Over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting my lists of words and brands that (IMHO, of course) have made the greatest impact during 2009 and during the Naughties.
The American Dialect Society will announce its own Word of the Decade at the society's annual meeting in January. To create my own list, I've observed the ADS criteria, selecting words that were, in my estimation:
- especially prominent or important throughout the years 2000-2009
- indicative of trends, fads, upheavals, groundswells, or sea changes which affected history, culture, or society throughout the years 2000-2009.
As you'll see, the 9/11 attacks and the wars they precipitated had a big effect on the decade's vocabulary.
If you don't see a word you think belongs on the list, it may be because it had its heyday in a previous decade. Or it may have risen to prominence in 2009, in which case there's a good chance I'll be including it in my Words of the Year post (coming soonhere!).
In alphabetical order:
ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Since 1987, the pathology has officially been called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but the cultural shorthand for a more general nervous energy or distractedness (in Yiddish: shpilkes) remains "ADD." A useful way to sum up many phenomena of the decade: the dot-com boom, the real-estate bubble, multitasking, tweeting, distracted driving...
Awesome. Long, long ago this word meant "full of dread or reverence." It began acquiring what the OED calls its "trivial" meaning as early as 1980, when it appeared in The Preppy Handbook. By the Naughties it had became an all-purpose approbation that could mean anything from "acceptable" to "extraordinary." It even spawned a spoof: "allsome." See also: Oh My That's Awesome.
Blog. Hard to believe, but the first truly popular blogging platform, Blogger, was launched just 10 years ago, in 1999. The word blog, a truncation of weblog (web + log), emerged the same year or possibly a year earlier. A few thousand people published blogs in Blogger's early years; by 2005 there were an estimated 50 million blogs that used Blogger and newer platforms such as TypePad and WordPress. In January 2009 The Future Buzz reported that Technorati had indexed 130 million blogs since 2002.
Diva. In the Naughties, everyone was a diva for at least 15 minutes.
Green. The association of the color with the environmental movement dates back to the 1970s, but except for Greenpeace, the usage was confined mostly to Europe. "Green" jumped across the pond in the 1990s and went commercial in the '00s. According to naming agency Catchword, U.S. trademark filings with the word "green" rose 143 percent between 2006 and 2008. Also on the rise during the decade: compound forms such as greenwashing and green-tech.
Ground Zero. Before 9/11, it meant "that part of the ground situated immediately under an exploding bomb, esp. an atomic one" (OED). It acquired grisly, non-bomb-related specificity afterward.
Hi-Def. Short for "high-definition," it refers specifically to a mode of TV broadcast first demonstrated in Europe and the United States in the early 1990s; the first U.S. coast-to-coast HDTV transmission took place in 1998 and was viewed in science centers and some theaters. Commercial HDTV became widespread over the next ten years. By extension, "hi-def" serves as a metaphor for the acute hyperreality also known as TMI (too much information) or, in business circles, "transparency."
Latte. Once upon a time, it was the Italian word for "milk." Now it's a light-brown coffee-based beverage prepared by a barista. May be modified by "soy," "skinny," or "iced."
Pirate. The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie (The Curse of the Black Pearl) was released in 2003. International Talk Like a Pirate Day, conceived in 1995 by John Baur and Mark Summers, might have remained a private affair if syndicated columnist Dave Barry hadn't written about it in 2002. Now there's a website, a book, a video, and hundreds of pirate parties every September 19. Meanwhile, actual Somali pirates ventured outside their native waters in 2008, setting off international consternation.
Proactive. Coined in 1933 as a psychological term ("affecting subsequent learning," as in "proactive disturbance of the cerebral mechanisms involved in memory consolidation"). As a synonym for "taking the initiative," it was seen as early as 1951, according to the OED. By the 2000s, it had come to mean "the opposite of anti-active."
Profiling. To mean "selection for scrutiny by law enforcement officials based on ethnic background or race," it had emerged as early as 1989. It gained currency, and ominous new overtones, after 2001, when terrorism suspects were sometimes identified based on presumed group characteristics.
PTSD. The abbreviation for post-traumatic stress disorder was one of the acronyms that became part of the popular discourse after the incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003, respectively. It acquired many non-bellicose, even jocular definitions, including Post-Traumatic Send Disorder (anxiety over an email sent in haste and repented at leisure). Other military acronyms that entered the general vocabulary after 9/11 include IED (improvised explosive device) and GWOT (global war on terror).
Reality. As a modifier for "TV," it means "unscripted but highly manipulated." By 2002 it had made LSSU's list of "banished words." If only.
Spam. Emerged as a technology problem with the advent of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s; by 2009, e-mail spam had been joined by IM (instant-message) spam, Twitter spam, blog-comment spam, wiki spam, and many other spam genres.
Terrorism. Before September 11, 2001, the word was only occasionally part of the national discourse, and usually only in reference to places far from the United States.
Corrections? Anecdotes? Additions to the list? You know what to do.
Another terror/military-related: WMD
Posted by: Bob | December 11, 2009 at 04:18 PM
For me "blog" (including Facebook,My Space,Twitter Etc.) sticks out head and shoulders above the rest as not only a word (noun and verb)but also as a force that is defining our present and future.
Do those not blogging on the internet really exist? Will the fate of health care and Tiger Woods be determined by bloggers?
Posted by: Nick | December 11, 2009 at 10:19 PM
"Terrorism. Before September 11, 2001, the word was only occasionally part of the national discourse" - you must be very young. Terrorism, as in assassinations and hijackings, occupied first-pages of the global media throughout the 70's. You are either too young to remember, didn't care at the time, or are trying to diminish the legitimacy of the word in today;s context. Love your blog; can't stand your forays into geopolitcs.
And since Obama and his administration have been frequently referred to as “excellent and transparent mass communicators” and considering the impact he's going to have on - at least - the rest of this decade, I would nominate a few of the Orwellian pearls The One came up with:
1) “Overseas contingency operations” to replace “war on terror” (an idiocy from the previous adminsitration; the meaning is "war on Islamism")
2) “Man-caused disasters” for “acts of terror.” The only phrase in the last 2 decades where those listing to port don't seem to have an issue with the sexist overtones.
3) “'Persons” whom the president “has the authority to detain'” - formerly "enemy combatants.
Here is to Transparency!
Posted by: Jan M. | December 17, 2009 at 10:01 AM
My comment on profiling vanished...so just in case, once again: what is the following statment based on? "when terrorism suspects were sometimes identified based on presumed group characteristics". I can tell you no profiling is taking place at airports - where it should. I personally should not be considered a terrrorism suspect, but I am. Why? Because WE DO NOT PROFILE!
Posted by: Jan M. | December 17, 2009 at 10:07 AM