It’s time to say good riddance to 2018 and to play #WOTY, the word-nerd’s favorite game. The score so far: Dictionary.com has chosen misinformation as its word of the year, with representation, self-made, and backlash) as runners-up; Oxford Dictionaries chose toxic (from a shortlist that included eight other words, one of them a former Fritinancy word of the week, gammon); Collins Dictionary selected single-use (runners-up: VAR, floss, and plogging); and Fresh Air language maven Geoff Nunberg picked nationalist. The Emmett Lee Dickinson Museum, an anonymous internet-based project, has been counting down the month of December with a daily WOTY; contenders so far have included thoughts and prayers, amorality, and, yes, flossing. (It’s a dance, in case you hadn’t known.) UPDATE: Mike Pope has posted his own very comprehensive list, which includes donugs, testilying, and TEDsplaining.
Here are my own candidates for #WOTY18, in alphabetical order.
You’ll find the story behind this week’s word, blue falcon, over at Strong Language, the sweary blog about swearing. What does blue falcon have to do with swearing? A couple of hints: It’s a bit of coded military jargon that became a Twitter hashtag after an emotional speech delivered by White House Chief of Staff (and retired Marine general) John Kelly.
Eater magazine published a five-part series on bad restaurant names, from bad puns to “distressingly sexual” to “crimes against language” to “just really bad.” Start with Part 1 and follow the links at the end to read about the others.
This post marks my eighth annual foray into word-of-the-year (WOTY) speculation. My first such summing-up, in 2009, included birther, Tea Party, and FAIL, among other lexical units. How things have changed. Or not.
As in the past, my choices for 2016 follow the guidelines of the American Dialect Society, which will choose its own WOTYs on January 6, 2017, at its annual meeting in Austin, Texas. (If you happen to be in the vicinity, the vote is open to the public, and it’s hella fun.) There are a few new ADS categories this year – political word of the year, digital (tech-related) word of the year, slang word of the year, WTF word of the year – and there’s always the possibility of even more categories being nominated from the floor. (For my own list, I’ve created three new categories: Obscenity of the Year, Import of the Year, and Spoonerism of the Year.) Nominated words don’t have to be brand new, but they do need to “show widespread usage by a large number of people in a variety of contexts and situations, and which reflect important events, people, places, ideas, or preoccupations of English-speakers in North America in 2016.”
It’s been a while since I’ve written about nearly swearyadvertising here. (It’s not as though I’ve taken a vow of purity: I’ve been shoveling that stuff over at the Strong Language blog.) But when I spotted a trifecta of fecal facetiousness within a span of a week, I just couldn’t hold back.
Hot damn! I have a new post up on Strong Language, the newish “sweary blog about swearing.” This time I’ve written about brand names like Mother Pucker, Mother Clucker, Mother Effer, and MoFo. Guess what they have in common?
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.
“Demised” is etymologically accurate—the Latin roots mean “to send away”—but its kinship with the synonym for “death” makes it more of a dysphemism than a euphemism.
I wrote about the legal meaning of demise—“to grant or transfer by will or lease”—in April 2012. The original meaning of “demise,” from the mid-15th century, was the legal one; the meaning was extended to “death” (because that’s when estate transfers usually occur) in the mid-18th century.
It’s Death Week on Fritinancy: a daily report on deathly words, names, and branding, culminating on All Hallows Eve, October 31. Read my previous “death” posts.