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Words of the Year

Posted Tuesday, January 8, 2008, at 11:19 AM

Talk American!
Did you know there was an American Dialect Society? If so, I wish you'd told me, because this is the first I've heard of it. I'd sort of like to join, now that I know they exist. I speak an (admittedly somewhat obscure) American dialect myself, so I should at least be a contender.

But be that as it may, the American Dialect Society has announced their choices for "Words of the Year" for 2007. They don't have to be brand new words necessarily, but only to have become newly prominent or notable. They do this every year, apparently, and have done so since at least 1990 without ever once letting me in on the gag. I only found out this time by accident. It's like they've been avoiding me.

I won't keep you in suspense. 2007's Word of the Year is "subprime," as in the type of mortgage that's causing so much trouble. What's news to me is that that word is apparently starting to be used as a general adjective meaning "not good," as in, "Man, we're not ordering from them again. That pizza was totally subprime." Among the runners-up was "wide stance." It seems that, "He has a wide stance," now means, "He is hypocritical, or expresses two opposing points of view." Personally, I plan to use that one a lot.

Their choice for "Most Creative" is one I haven't heard, though I'm familiar with the phenomenon. It is "Googlegänger." This means a person with the same name as you who turns up when you google yourself. (This person, by the way, will invariably have a more exciting and productive life than you do.)

Their choice of "word most likely to succeed,"--that is, come into and stay in general usage--(and also winner as "most useful") is "green-," used as a prefix denoting environmental significance. (For instance, see those "green funerals" mentioned in Ken Jones' blog.) I think that's cheating, since green-this and green-that has already been in common usage a while, but they're the dialect experts, not me. One of the choices for "least likely to succeed" is certainly intriguing, though, and a new term to me. It is "quadriboobage." This is "the appearance of having four breasts caused by wearing a brassiere that is too small."

But how good are they at predictions? They have a track record to check, after all. Well, let's look back. Their 2006 Word Most Likely to Succeed was "YouTube," when used as a verb. YouTube is certainly still around, but I'm not sure how often it is a verb. I'll give them partial credit there. They get 100% for their Least Likely to Succeed Word of 2006, which was "pope-squatting." That apparently meant registering the likely domain names of a new pope before he chooses his name, in order to profit from it. After the guy who got BenedictXVI.com cashed his checks, that word sank pretty quickly. (Better luck next time, EleuterusII.net!)

It's sort of interesting to look through their lists of words, if only to realize when certain terms came into being. The nineties were largely about technology. 1990's word most likely to succeed was "notebook PC." "Snail mail" was their "Most Likely to Succeed" term in 1992, which was also when they noted the use of "Franken-" as a prefix for "genetically altered," as in "Frankenfoods." Back in 1993 they pronounced "thing," to be the most useful. (As in, "You wouldn't understand, sweetheart. It's a guy thing.") 1997 saw the ascendance of "duh!" as an expression illustrating someone else's stupidity, and "DVD" as their term most likely to succeed. (They nailed that one.) 1998 brought us "e-" as a prefix for anything electronic from "mail" to "commerce," and the mercifully forgotten verb, "to Lewinsky," which meant to engage in something which might or might not be sexual relations.

The field is wide open for 2008. Start using words right away and maybe one of yours will make next year's list.

Showing comments in chronological order
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I liked "google-bomb" when I first heard it, though I didn't know what it meant.

-- Posted by kennethjones on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 8:35 AM

I wish someone would Lewinsky "W" so we could impeach him.............

-- Posted by Johnny Yuma on Sat, Jan 12, 2008, at 4:26 PM

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