I’ve made it clear in the past that I don’t take “word of the year” (WOTY) contests or rankings very seriously. But many others do, so the subject is always worth some discussion (and, just as often, a few laughs). Let’s take a quick look at the results of some of 2012’s WOTY declarations.
Oh – you didn’t know that the 2012 results were in? I’m not surprised. In some years, these things get extensive news coverage, but this year I didn’t notice a single mention in the mainstream media. They were there, they were just much more subdued than in recent years.
I won’t drag this out and keep you in suspense for another 1000 words: the 2012 word of the year selected by the American Dialect Society was “hashtag.” Hashtag? Yes, hashtag. Okay, let’s be fair: there wasn’t much competition. The point is to choose a word that either had a great impact last year, or that usefully fills a gap in the existing vocabulary. There weren’t many standouts. If you have to pick a word of the year for 2012, this is probably one of the few good choices, maybe the best. But none of the suggestions were very good: YOLO? Hate-watching? Dancelexia? It’s unlikely that any of them will get much traction. In fact, outside of WOTY lists and a handful of strained uses, I haven’t observed many of these candidates in actual speech or writing. That’s what struck me as most amusing about the ADS WOTY list: if you look farther down in the press release and go through the different categories they voted on, it seems that the candidates which actually saw the most use (and might continue to) were the ones on the “Most Unnecessary” list — legitimate rape, Frankenstorm, HD. Outside of a couple of the euphemisms (which come and go almost cyclically), the only other terms with legs in here are MOOC (which I’ve noticed several times over the past few months) and good old malarkey (which never, really, goes out of style). I guess these votes give the members something to do during dinner one evening at their annual meeting, but it still seems like a better idea to just not bother when the candidate words are this weak (as I’ve already suggested).
Enough of picking on the ADS: really, I like them and the work they do. They’ve had a good ear for usage in recent years (app and tweet, for instance, and even occupy last year). When that fails, they still often keep their sense of humor (truthiness), and rarely raise up a true loser (although they did vote up both plutoed and bushlips. Seriously, guys — bushlips?).
So what did some of the other regular promoters of new vocabulary have to say about 2012’s WOTY?
Dictionary.com (once noted as perhaps the most egregious non-porn dispenser of unsecure cookies on the entire web) went with “bluster.” They certainly don’t get any points for living dangerously. The funniest thing about this choice was their touchy defense of last year’s selection in the announcement: “‘[Tergiversate] is a word that still resonates into 2012. We can only hope that ‘Bluster’ will carry the same resonance,’ said Schwartz.” Don’t hold your breath on that one, Mr. Schwartz. But at least you didn’t tergiversate.
Oxford took two bites at the apple, neither impressive. OAD went with GIF. Yes, that GIF. The 25-year-old animated file format GIF. OUP went with “omnishambles,” a Britishism and a cleaned-up synonym for “clusterfuck.” Points for originality, but it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or fill a gap in the language, so my bet is that it won’t go far. However, it’s worth noting that OUP’s shortlist also included superstorm and MOOC, both of which actually have traction and are worth watching.
Merriam-Webster couldn’t make up its mind and went with both capitalism and socialism. I realize these words saw a lot of use during the presidential election campaign, but this choice hearkens back to the Reagan era. Still, M-W deserves special mention in any WOTY discussion. This year they made their choice based on the frequency of word lookups in their online dictionary. That shows a bit more integrity (and less headline-seeking) than most of the others. It also makes me wonder what’s happening to our educational system if these two common knowledge terms were at the top of the lookup list last year. In past years, M-W let users vote — leading to more entertaining winners, such as 2007’s “woot.”
This year the folks at Global Language Monitor gave us “apocalypse.” A safe choice, considering the (thankfully now behind us) end of the world Mayan calendar buzz. MOOC also made it onto their list, as well as some other words with the potential to last, or at least have their day: meme, fracking, adorkable. You’ll notice a number of words on their list that we’ve already seen on some of the others, as well as a few novel ones: drones has had success, and obesogenic could take off in specialized contexts. Derecho made their list, too. I had to look this up when I first encountered it several months back, and I’m not a fan because it seems unnecessary. But I’ll be the first to admit that it’s gotten a fair amount of use, and it might be here to stay.
Worth noting also is that this year GLM appears to have backed away from predicting next year’s top words (which they tried last year). Considering that last year’s list was a combination of safe predictions based on trending news and wild guesses, this was probably a good decision. Heck, every year since 1997 I’ve been predicting that “a dwarf will be famous” and even Peter Dinklage hasn’t quite been able to to give my declaration the respect it so richly deserves.
That’s a pretty comprehensive, although not entirely complete, WOTY roundup. If you’ve got any good WOTY candidates from 2012 that didn’t make it into this discussion, or you have predictions for 2013, please share them in a comment. In upcoming posts I’ll take a look at some of the “banned” words for 2013 and some new and unusual terms that have crossed my desk.
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And that image I slapped on this post? That’s a real book. I don’t have a copy yet, but if you’re feeling generous I’d love one.