Word Routes

Exploring the pathways of our lexicon

The 2010 Words of the Year: And the Nominees Are...

Greetings from chilly Pittsburgh! The American Dialect Society is having its annual conference here, and last night we met to select the nominees for various categories of Words 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 2010?


  • fat-finger Verb: to mistype, as by accidentally striking more than one key on a keyboard/pad.
  • junk As in junk shot (attempt to fix BP oil spill), junk status (Greece's credit rating), and don't touch my junk (protest against TSA pat-down procedure).
  • nom Onomatopoetic form connoting eating, esp. pleasurably. Can be used as an interjection or noun to refer to delicious food.
  • vuvuzela: South African plastic trumpet used by fans during the FIFA World Cup matches.


  • -sauce Intensive suffix, as in awesome-sauce 'great' and lame-sauce 'stupid'.
  • spillion An immense number, especially of gallons of oil in the Gulf spill. Also spillionaire, person made rich by money from BP's spill cleanup fund.
  • phoenix firm A troubled company that reemerges under a new name.
  • prehab Preemptive enrollment in a rehab facility to prevent relapse of an abuse problem.


  • refudiate Blend of refute and repudiate used by Sarah Palin on Twitter.
  • ironic moustache Facial hair worn as a statement of retro hipsterdom.
  • star whacker Imagined celebrity killer (alleged by actor Randy Quaid and his wife Evi).


  • gate rape Pejorative term for invasive new airport pat-down procedure.
  • terror baby Baby born to a terrorist family on U.S. soil in order to establish citizenship.
  • bed intruder Perpetrator of a home invasion in Huntsville, Ala., made famous by viral video.


  • corn sugar Corn Refiners Association's rebranding of high fructose corn syrup.
  • enhanced pat-down TSA's term for controversial new frisking procedure.
  • kinetic event Pentagon term for violent attacks on troops in Afghanistan.


  • hacktivism Using computer hacking skills as a form of political or social activism.
  • -pad Combining form used by iPad and other tablet computers (ViewPad, WindPad, etc.).
  • telework Term used at federal level for work by an employee away from the office.
  • trend Verb: to exhibit a burst of online buzz.


  • fauxhemian Winner of a Gawker poll to replace the term "hipster."
  • skyaking Jumping out of a plane in a kayak.
  • top kill / top hat / junk shot Various failed techniques to fix the BP oil spill.

ELECTION TERMS (new category)

  • Aqua Buddha Fictitious deity in collegiate scandal involving Rand Paul, raised during his Kentucky Senate campaign.
  • mama grizzly Sarah Palin's term for a fiercely conservative female candidate.
  • man up Exhortation to be responsible or "act like a man," used by Sharron Angle against Harry Reid in Nevada Senate race.
  • Obamacare Pejorative term for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

FAN WORDS (new category)

  • belieber A fan of pop singer Justin Bieber (Bieber + believer)
  • gleek A fan of the TV show "Glee" (Glee + geek)
  • little monster A fan of pop singer Lady Gaga, so called by the singer herself.
  • Twihard A fan of the "Twilight" books and movies.
  • Yat Dat A native-born fan of the New Orleans Saints.

Update: Read all about the results of the final voting 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.

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Comments from our users:

Friday January 7th 2011, 9:44 AM
Comment by: Jon D. (King of Prussia, PA)
Of these, I like "hacktivism" the best, as I feel it has the most legs to continue to be a relevant and descriptive term in the future.

However, I think "quantitative easing" was missed in the euphemism category.

And all that said, I still think "refudiate" might have ironic legs similar to how GW Bush's "misunderestimate" lives on strong in sarcastic circles.

There's another linguistic-ironic trend that I feel hit a peak this year that seems to be missing from the list:

The notion of how experts (mostly in technology) mock neophytes by intentionally using the neophyte's own poorly-phrased jargon to create an "in joke" around jargon. This probably started when GW Bush would mention "the internets," was re-enforced when then-Senator Ted Stevens was 'educating' his colleagues in the Senate by describing the internet as a "series of tubes," and was recently capped by President Obama's mentioning the headquarters of "Twitters."

These gaffes have culminated into a broadly used inside joke amongst the elite (primarily technology and satirist circles) by ironically prefacing a term with "the" and/or pluralizing terms. Examples:

It's on the internets.
Did you check the Google?
I saw what was happening on the Twitters...
Friday January 7th 2011, 10:18 AM
Comment by: kelley S. (Newberg, OR)
I vote for Enhanced (and i think i read that here last week). enhanced patdown. enhanced interrigation. taking a positive and adding it to an undesirable to enhance its acceptance. it's a brilliant misappropriation. word of the year.
Friday January 7th 2011, 9:58 PM
Comment by: Vivien D. (Sidney Canada)
I'm tired of hearing "amazing" attributed to so many actions, shows, songs, etc. which are perhaps little more than better than average, good or just new. So often the use of "amazing" indicates a dearth of alternative, appropriate expressions.
Saturday January 8th 2011, 3:50 PM
Comment by: mac
i voted "dreadful" even tho it wasn't. however, it was less than poor and better than dreadful. my reaction: nearly every selection will be dry and blown on the winds by next year this time. then again, perhaps i mist something and blowing these toxins away was the whole point of the exercise which further goes to prove something i've always suspected. (remember when sussed was the big word? no? that's my point about drying up. and, in any case, i've always suspected: "what the hell do i know?"

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