Word Routes

Exploring the pathways of our lexicon

Now Presenting: The Nominees for the 2011 Word of the Year

Greetings from Portland, Oregon, where the American Dialect Society is having its annual conference. As chair of the New Words Committee, I had the honor of presiding over the nominating session for the Word of the Year. On Friday evening, winners will be selected from the different categories, and then nominations will be made for the overall category of Word of the Year. What do you think the category winners should be, and what should be crowned the Word of 2011?

MOST USEFUL

  • humblebrag - expression of false humility, especially by celebrities on Twitter
  • FOMO - acronym for "Fear of Missing Out," describing anxiety over being inundated by information on social media
  • occupy - verb, noun, and combining form referring to the Occupy protest movement
  • tablet - lightweight portable computer with a touchscreen to input data

MOST CREATIVE

  • bunga bunga - name for sex parties allegedly involving former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
  • kardash - unit of measurement consisting of 72 days, after the short-lived marriage of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries (coined by Weird Al Yankovic)
  • Mellencamp - a woman who has aged out of being a "cougar" (after John Cougar Mellencamp)

MOST UNNECESSARY

  • planking - posing for a photograph, esp. in a public place, with one's body in a stiff, prone position, for circulation online
  • bi-winning - term used by Charlie Sheen to describe himself pridefully, dismissing accusations of being bipolar
  • amazeballs - slang form for "amazing"

MOST OUTRAGEOUS

  • deather  - one who doubts the official story of the killing of Osama bin Laden
  • assholocracy - government by obnoxious multi-millionaires
  • botoxionist - a doctor who administers Botox injections

MOST EUPHEMISTIC

  • artisan, artisanal - faux-fancy term used to describe food and other products
  • job creator - a member of the top one-percent of moneymakers
  • regime alteration - alternative to "regime change" promoted by Obama administration in some Middle Eastern countries

MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED

  • Arab spring - a series of popular uprisings in Middle Eastern countries against dictatorial regimes
  • cloud - online space for the large-scale processing and storage of data
  • tiger mom, tiger mother - an exceedingly strict parent (after Amy Chua's memoir, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother")

LEAST LIKELY TO SUCCEED

  • Tebowing - posing for photograph praying on one knee, after Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow
  • 9-9-9 - tax plan proposed by Herman Cain (9% business tax, 9% personal income tax, 9% federal sales tax)
  • brony - Adult male fan of the "My Little Pony" cartoon franchise

OCCUPY WORDS (new category)

  • occupy - verb, noun, and combining form referring to the Occupy protest movement
  • the 99%, 99 percenters - those held to be at a financial or political disadvantage to the top moneymakers, the one-percenters.
  • people's mic, human microphone - method of amplifying a person's speech by having surrounding people repeat it line by line
  • twinkling - system of wiggly hand gestures to register approval or disapproval

Update: The winner of the ADS Word of the Year is occupy. The press release, with the winners in the different categories, is here (PDF). You can read my full report here.]


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Ben Zimmer is executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com. He is language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. In addition to his regular "Word Routes" column here, he contributes to the group weblog Language Log. He is also the chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Click here to read more articles by Ben Zimmer.

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Comments from our users:

Friday January 6th 2012, 3:38 AM
Comment by: Anna O. (London United Kingdom)
I can live without most of these cluttering up my vocabulary, but I confess to a mild fondness for 'artisan'. I came across an artisan bakery a few months ago and owe it a debt of gratitude for the amusement the entire concept gave me.

The bread was quite tasty, too.
Friday January 6th 2012, 7:52 AM
Comment by: Roger Dee (Haslett, MI)Top 10 Commenter
I definitely do not have FOMO, but I see that I am failing to keep up with the times.
Quite a few of the terms were new to me.
And I'm not a "one-percenter" nor am I an "occupier".
What would one do without this information?
Friday January 6th 2012, 3:38 PM
Comment by: nannywoo is back (Wilmington, NC)
Roger, I'm not sure, not knowing you, but you might be a mugwump. Old word, though.
Friday January 6th 2012, 5:34 PM
Comment by: Deb T.
re 'FOMO' definition; 'inundated' not 'indundated'? :)

[Fixed! —Ed.]
Friday January 6th 2012, 6:43 PM
Comment by: Julie C
I hope you're enjoying Oregon! Being based in Salem about an hour south of Portland, I must admit that FOMO surged within me while reading this post.
Friday January 6th 2012, 8:49 PM
Comment by: Ferial E R (Woodbridge United Kingdom)
Humblebrag is my favourite. How I wish that I had thought of it.
Saturday January 7th 2012, 10:10 AM
Comment by: begum F.Top 10 Commenter
Most of the words cited here are out of the norm tone means not for the general public. All of these are time and event or scenario representing therefore will not last for an infinite time.This is my opinion only!
People used these words for certain time of the year. Events are out of sight or time, therefore words are out of mind or tongue also. Specially, words connected with celebrity scandal are always momentous not everlasting.I liked "The 99%" but we need to find a better synonym for this word.
Saturday January 7th 2012, 11:02 AM
Comment by: Roger Dee (Haslett, MI)Top 10 Commenter
Hi DEB T,
I'm glad to make acquaintance with other members of the Word Police.
Saturday January 7th 2012, 7:07 PM
Comment by: Jon D. (King of Prussia, PA)
As someone who trolls the twitterverse and regularly facepalms reading Facebook, I'm pretty stunned by how many of these terms are brand new to me.

I'm also a bit confused as to how/why Occupy became a category. It doesn't seem to be parallel to the other categories.

Anyway, my picks:

MOST USEFUL
None of the listed. Most useful is a tie between The Cloud and Artisanal.

MOST CREATIVE:
bi-winning. Creative, even patriotic twist on "bi-polar."

MOST OUTRAGEOUS:
kardash

MOST EUPHEMISTIC:
job creator

MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED:
(The) Cloud

LEAST LIKELY TO SUCCEED
brony

OCCUPY WORDS (under protest):
The 99%

WOTY: Occupy
Sunday January 8th 2012, 8:17 PM
Comment by: Christin F.
Artisan is so over used here in northern California I did not realize it is new.
Sunday January 8th 2012, 8:22 PM
Comment by: Christin F.
I am seriously annoyed by the use of the word cloud for a system of servers. Cloud implies atmospheric dispersion yet the servers are centrally located.

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