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)
Click here to read more articles from Word Routes.

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.