Exploring the pathways of our lexicon
The American Dialect Society's "Word of the Year" Nominees
Greetings from Baltimore, where the American Dialect Society is holding its annual conference. Along with scholarly presentations about American linguistic varieties, the ADS is also making selections for Word of the Year (2009) and Word of the Decade (2000-09). ADS members fixed on a final list of nominees for the different categories that will be up for a vote on Friday.
The list of nominations (available in PDF form here) has many entries that should be familiar to Word Routes readers. For instance, in the category of "Most Useful" words of '09, fail (as a noun or interjection) and the prefix un- (as in unfollow, unfriend, or unfavorite) made the cut. We talked about fail in August, and the un- prefix in May and then again in September. They will be competing with the political suffix -er (as in birther and deather) and rogue (popularized by Sarah Palin's memoir Going Rogue).
The "Most Creative" category includes Botax, a proposed tax on cosmetic surgery, and Dracula sneeze, the method of covering one's mouth while sneezing in a gesture reminiscent of Dracula and his cape. Among "Most Unnecessary" nominees are two media-driven flashes in the pan: Octomom, the epithet for Nadya Suleman, mother of octuplets, and Salahi, an eponym for gate-crashing discussed in this space last month.
A frontrunner in the "Most Outrageous" category is Sarah Palin's notorious phrase death panel, part of our lexicon of the health care debate in August. The "Most Euphemistic" category, meanwhile, features two phrases championed by our own euphemism-meister Mark Peters: Gov. Sanford's evasion hiking the Appalachian trail and PETA's preferred term for fish, sea kittens.
One of the nominees for "Most Likely to Succeed" is twenty-ten, which will likely beat out two thousand ten as the preferred name for the new year. Meanwhile, in the "Least Likely to Succeed" category are aughties, noughties, and other unsuccessful names for the first decade of the 21st century. (Linguist Dennis Baron concluded that it is simply "the decade with no name.")
In the voting session on Friday, winners will be declared in all of these subcategories, along with an overall Word of the Year. The WOTY winner could come out of the subcategories (like fail or -er from Most Useful), or it could simply be an "at large" choice (like H1N1 or public option). After picking the 2009 WOTY, the ADS will go on to select a Word of the Decade from a list of very familiar items: blog, google (as a verb), text (as a verb), 9/11, war on terror, and green (in the environmental sense).
Stay tuned for news of the winners after Friday's vote!