The Decade in Words The Decade in Words
Culture

The Decade in Words

by Mark Peters

December 31, 2009

Ten years of technology, terrorism, and truthiness.I don't know how blood tests work, and I don't want to: they ick me out. Still, I can imagine that the red stuff flowing through our veins gives doctors important clues about the rest of the body. Looking at prominent words has the same function. It's one way of pinpointing just what we've been writing and talking and thinking about, especially when we're in a reflective mood like we are now, at the end of a decade.Fortunately, we have many helpers in identifying the lexical highlights and wordy wonders of the past ten years: the American Dialect Society began its second decade of picking the word of the year, and other dictionaries and publishers got in on the act, providing us with the equivalent of a list of NBA MVP winners-along with the same controversies over who really deserved to win.Onward! Or rather, backward!2000The ADS gets it right by selecting "chad" as its word of the year-immortalizing those discarded (or hanging) parts of punch-card ballots that were in the news as the Bush-Gore election turned into a Russian-novel-sized saga.The ADS's Most Likely to Succeed is "muggle"-a Harry Potter word for a non-wizard that is useful in describing any unskilled person.2001"911" easily wins WOTY at ADS, as this term instantly becomes a permanent part of our vocabulary, for the saddest reasons possible.Other terrorism-centric terms in the news include "shuicide bomber" (the guy with the would-be bomb in his sneaker), "facial profiling," and "let's roll."2002Probably one of the ADS's best selections-"weapons of mass destruction" is newly (and hugely) prominent, but also stays lodged in the lingo, both in serious searches for WMDs and humorous alternations like "weapons of mouse destruction" and "weapons of financial destruction."ADS also recognizes two potential words of the decade, as "blog" wins Most Likely to Succeed and "google" as a verb wins Most Useful.2003"Metrosexual" becomes the ADS WOTY and, it seems, a permanent addition to the lexicon of goofy fashion-related words. It edges out "pre-emptive self-defense," a euphemistic wonder.Some innovative thinkers start referring to "freedom fries" and "freedom kissing" in a ridiculous attempt to avoid giving the French credit for anything.2004Another election year, and a trio of terms-"red state," "blue state," and "purple state"-win for ADS. It seems likely these words will be used to describe the two sides of the American political smackdown (and their inevitable blurring) for years to come.Merriam-Webster selects "blog" as WOTY, as that word/genre continues to dominate.2005The ADS is ahead of the curve, selecting "truthiness" from its lone appearance on the debut episode of The Colbert Report. It is a close winner over "Katrina."ADS concocts a whole category for Tom Cruise-related terms, such as "Cruise-azy," "TomKat," and "jump the couch," a variation of "jump the shark" inspired by Cruise's batty performance on Oprah.New Oxford American Dictionary picks "podcast" as WOTY, a term that surged on the scene and now seems as much a part of the permanent landscape as birds or hipsters.2006"Truthiness" seems to be everywhere, thanks to the ADS election, the snowballing success of Stephen Colbert, and the tremendous relevance of the word. It wins WOTY from Merriam-Webster and dictionary.com.ADS is a little less in touch with the culture, but quite tune with the cosmos, as they pick "Plutoed" as WOTY, in honor of Pluto's demotion from planet status and subsequent use as a verb. The term is swiftly Plutoed itself."Carbon neutral" is picked by NOAD-a sign of the ever-greening times.2007Financial follies fill the lexicon, as "subprime" wins the ADS vote, and a whole category is created for lousy-loan-related terms, such as "scratch and dent loan" and "NINJA" (no income, no job or assets).NOAD's pick of "locavore" (an eater of local food) and Merriam-Webster's selection of "w00t" (an online exclamation) reflect the growing interest in healthy eating and online culture.2008The ADS and Merriam-Webster pick "bailout," a word heard frequently as the financial mess unfolds. Other notable words and expressions were "lipstick on a pig," "terrorist fist jab," "maverick," and "Barack Obama," whose name spaws neologisms such as "Barackstar," "Barackupied," "Obamacize," "Obamafy," and "Obamazon," among many others. Slate publishes a book to collect them-Obamamania! The English Language, Barackafied.NOAD picks "hypermiling"-maximizing mileage through fuel conservation-while Webster's New World Dictionary selects "overshare," a term for too-much-information-y tendencies.2009So far, WOTY selections have demonstrated the usual wide range: NOAD selected "unfriend," appropriately representing the prominence of Facebook and Twitter. Along the same lines, the Global Language Monitor declared "Twitter" the most popular word of the year, while other groups selected "distracted driving" and "admonish." The ADS vote is yet to come.From a sheer popularity standpoint, it's hard to argue with anything Twitter-related (like "tweet") but I would go with either "death panel" or "public option." In their own way, each is emblematic of the fubar discourse on health care.
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The Decade in Words