Word Routes

Exploring the pathways of our lexicon

Presenting the Nominees for the 2012 Word of the Year

At the American Dialect Society's annual conference in Boston, we took a break from paper presentations to select nominations for the Word of the Year. As chair of the New Words Committee, I presided over the nominating session on Thursday. Winners will be selected from the different categories on Friday evening, culminating in the vote for the overall Word of the Year. Here's the list of nominees.


  • YOLO: acronym for “You Only Live Once,” often used sarcastically or self-deprecatingly
  • -(po)calypse & -(ma)geddon: hyperbolic combining forms for various catastrophes
  • hate-watching: continuing to follow a television show despite having an aversion to it
  • beardruff: dandruff from one’s beard
  • mansplaining: a man’s condescending explanation to a female audience
  • alpacalypse: the Mayan apocalypse predicted for Dec. 21, 2012 (alpaca + -lypse)
  • gate lice: airline passengers who crowd around a gate waiting to board
  • dancelexia: inability to pull off dance moves (such as misspelling “YMCA”)


  • legitimate rape: type of rape that Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin claimed rarely results in pregnancy
  • Frankenstorm: term for Hurricane Sandy’s hybrid storm system (after Frankenstein’s monster)
  • HD: abbreviation for “high-definition,” used for things that could not be high-definition
  • feels: slangy shortening of “feelings”


  • Dunlop effect: when one’s stomach protrudes over ill-fitting pants (“belly done lop over the belt”)
  • legitimate rape: type of rape that Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin claimed rarely results in pregnancy
  • slut-shaming: attacking a woman for socially stigmatized sexual activity
  • butt-chugging: an alcohol enema, used in college fraternity hazing rituals


  • disruptive: destroying existing business models
  • Gray Thursday: name given to Thanksgiving as a shopping day before Black Friday
  • self-deportation: policy of encouraging illegal immigrants to return voluntarily to home countries
  • ratchet: slang term originally referring to “urban divas” now used to mean “ghetto”


  • fiscal cliff: threat of spending cuts and tax increases looming over end-of-year budget negotiations
  • superstorm: an unusually large and destructive storm, such as Hurricane Sandy
  • MOOC: acronym for “massive open online course”
  • marriage equality: legal recognition of same-sex marriage
  • big data: large collections of digital information used for revealing behavioral insights


  • cray-cray: slangy shortening and reduplication of “crazy”
  • Gangnam style: the trendy style of Seoul’s Gangnam district, as used in the Korean pop song of the same name
  • Windows Metro: name originally used for the Windows 8 operating system
  • phablet: mid-sized electronic device between a smartphone and a tablet


  • 47 percent: portion of the population that does not pay federal income tax (as used by Romney)
  • Etch-a-Sketch: metaphor of reinvention used by Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom
  • Eastwooding: photo fad inspired by Clint Eastwood’s unscripted speech at the Republican National Convention
  • Romney/Obama: names of candidates used for blends (Obamaloney, Obamageddon, Romnesia, Romney Hood)

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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.

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Comments from our users:

Friday January 4th 2013, 1:41 AM
Comment by: Alex W. (New York, NY)
Your politics are too obvious. I thought I was subscribing to a thesaurus, not a school of thought.
Friday January 4th 2013, 3:42 AM
Comment by: Ranger Bob
Well, Alex; just compare Boehner to Hilary when thinking 'conservative' vs 'liberal' or 'ignoramus' vs 'itellectual', or perhaps 'crybaby' vs 'stoic1.
Friday January 4th 2013, 8:11 AM
Comment by: Roger Dee (Haslett, MI)Top 10 Commenter
Ben, I love your take on that part of the current political agony. GO FOR IT!
Friday January 4th 2013, 9:09 AM
Comment by: I B. (Reading, MA)
Can we please dump 'going viral'?
Friday January 4th 2013, 10:02 AM
Comment by: Alfredo S.
I am amazed at how much mansplaining still occurs in our day and age! The US media seems to look at events in India and Pakistan from an angle of superiority, yet, with very loud and popular voices of our own, such as Todd Akin's, it proves that we still have a long way to go...!

Anyhow, thank you for a pertinent list of current cultural neologisms! I got a good chuckle out of several of them...
Friday January 4th 2013, 10:05 AM
Comment by: Dagmar E.
Isn't Dunlop because of the tire brand of the same name (vs. "done lop")? Just wondering...
Friday January 4th 2013, 4:47 PM
Comment by: Kathleen P.
Saw a great election word blend while visiting New Mexico just before the election: A large roadside sign with "OBAMANOS!" in red letters on blue background. Combo of two languages: Spanish "vamanos" ("Let's go!") and the president's name.
Friday January 4th 2013, 5:32 PM
Comment by: Becky C.
Kathleen, I am wondering what is meant by Obanamos. "Lets go, Obama", pro Obama? or "Obama, go", con Obama?
Friday January 4th 2013, 8:23 PM
Comment by: Kathleen P.
Becky, Oh, NM is pro-Obama. Definitely a blue state this election. They voted for him. But pro or con, it's a clever coined bi-lingual word.
Saturday January 5th 2013, 1:29 PM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
Kathleen: "Obamanos" was first used in the 2008 election. I wrote about it here (Oct. 21, 2008). It means "Let's go, Obama."
Saturday January 5th 2013, 2:37 PM
Comment by: Kathleen P.
Nancy: Thanks for the link to your interesting election info. I'd never been in New Mexico until this past year. Good to know "Obamanos" has legs.
Sunday January 6th 2013, 12:36 AM
Comment by: Jasmin O.
It saddens me that 'swag' is anywhere on this website, except for being used to describe walking.

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