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?


  • 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


  • 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)


  • 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"


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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")


  • 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 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.