Earlier this month the 2018 Word of the Year (WOTY) season wrapped up with two final announcements: the spree of candidates and winners from the American Dialect Society and the final selection from Australia’s Macquarie dictionary. (If you missed the earlier summary, covering all the important 2018 WOTY announcments aside from these two, click here.)
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The American Dialect Society (ADS) puts out a buffet of candidate words and phrases in a variety of categories (the full press release is here). It’s almost always a good read, although some times it feels like they’re too thorough, if that’s possible.
Their overall winner this year: tender-age shelter (with variants tender-age facility and tender-age camp).
The term is a dangerously euphemistic concoction used by the dangerously concocted Trump administration to describe the facilities used to house young children in government detention. This followed from the administration’s tactic of referring to children under the age of 12 as “tender age detainees” after separating them from their immigrant parents.
This choice surprised me: I somehow had not come across it (which made me wonder what I was doing in late June that kept me from following the news). While my first reaction toward it as a WOTY choice was “…that’s a weird one…,” the more I looked into it the more it seems like a good choice.
You’ll find a specific use of “tender age children” by an administration official, as well as conficting definitions, in this article. I’m not completely sure that the construction “tender age shelter” was ever uttered or committed to paper by anyone in government, but it quickly appeared in circulated references to this policy. The particular construction may in fact have been produced in news accounts, although the intent was clear and the creation of the phrase was both implied by administration officials and inevitable once they started using certain euphemisms to avoid discussing the plainly visible reality.
The phrase is especially interesting, from a vocabulary perspective, because it seems to have sprung into existence on June 19th of last year: I’ve done a reasonable (but not exhaustive) amount of research, and can find no record of the phrase before that date.
There are, as usual, a number of other interesting nuggets on the ADS list. “X strong” reaches the list late: I’ve been watching the use (and overuse) of this formulation since at least 2011 when it was popularized in my region (New England) through the use of “Vermont Strong” in the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricane Irene. It reached cliché status a couple of years later with “Boston Strong.” “Individual 1” is another choice that hits the mark, as is “white-caller crime.”
“deepfake” I like, but it probably won’t get much use; novel words that sound a little too close to other recent coinages (in this case “deep state“) usually wither due to the confusion of the terms. On the other hand, I don’t particularly like “self-care,” but that one probably has staying power. It already seems pervasive. You’ll notice a few other terms on their lists that were selected or nominated by other sources, which is usually how the WOTY game shakes out. I invite you to scan through their finalists and winners: you might find some of the others interesting or worth digging deeper.
Rounding out the 2018 WOTY lists (finally!), Macquarie—which gives both a committee selection and a popular choice—tapped “Me Too” (committee) and “single use” (popular). The sudden attention to single-use (it was also Collins’ WOTY) leaves me scratching my head. But Me Too is a good choice and, in the same way that everyone else should have been embarassed by not having nationalism on their shortlists, every WOTY-selecting group that entirely overlooked Me Too should hang their heads in shame. It’s an obvious and meaningful choice, and the fact that it was ignored by most American sources but elevated by Australians is doubly embarassing. You’ve got some ground to make up after other selections in recent years, but “good on you, Macquarie.” (Did I do that right?) Browse the rest of their WOTY postings: their other candidates were generally good ones.
So there you have it: the conclusion of the 2018 WOTY wrap up. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I’ve already started my list of potential WOTY candidates for 2019 with “shutdown,” but I suspect that by the time WOTY season rolls around again, that one will be all but forgotten.
I’ve got a number of posts on interesting topics that have been backing up the past couple of months, and hope to get to them soon, so check back once in a while to see what’s new.