05 January 2008

More WoTYs

So, further to Merriam Webster's bigging up of w00t as its word of the year for 2007, the American Dialect Society and the OED have also announced their own WoTYs; I don't like either of these as much as w00t.

The ADS picked subprime, "an adjective used to describe a risky or less than ideal loan, mortgage, or investment. Subprime was also winner of a brand-new 2007 category for real estate words, a category which reflects the preoccupation of the press and public for the past year with a deepening mortgage crisis."

Wow, that's such an exciting new word! The formation is boring, the etymology is boring and the meaning is boring. An all-round lexical loser, to my mind. I like one of the runners up better, which also won the "most creative" category: Googlegänger ("a person with your name who shows up when you google yourself.")

One of the runners up in the "most creative" category was lolcat. Fine, but hardly new, although I suppose 2007 was the year of the degeekification of the lolcat and the orly owl and the rest of the lolmenagerie.

Looking at some of the previous winners of the ADS's WoTY, I don't think they're very good at predicting words that are likely to remain in the lexicon, which are usually those that score highly on the FUDGE factor. This stands for: "Frequency of use" (broadly its popularity), "Unobtrusiveness" (disguised as something we already know about), "Diversity of users and situations" (whether it is used by people in lots of different situations), "Generation of other forms and meanings" (how fertile it is in creating derived forms), and "Endurance of the concept" (whether the thing it describes stays around so you need the word to describe it)."

In 1990, for example, the first WoTY of the ADS was the now obscure bushlips ("insincere political rhetoric"), although the most amazing (bungee jumping) and the most outrageous (politically correct) fared better. I liked 1996's most original prebuttal ("a preemptive rebuttal") but that appears not to have gone anywhere.

2002's prediction for the word most likely to succeed was pretty accurate too: blog. Not so much with 2006's WoTY: to be plutoed, to pluto ("to be demoted or devalued"). I like the idea here but to my knowledge, it hasn't really caught on (Google only turns up 19,000 hits, most of them probably relating to the word being WoTY).

Meanwhile, at the OED, locavore was proclaimed WoTY for 2007. According to the OUP blog, "[t]he “locavore” movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation."

Hmm... None of the runners up were particularly inspired either - the backformation, to tase, for example, which Grammar Girl parodies nicely with her "Don't verbify me, bro!" t-shirts. As for cougar ("an older woman who romantically pursues younger men"), I've never heard of it but it sounds like a terrible idea.

The Oxford WoTY for 2006 was carbon neutral, which is still doing well and will probably only continue to spread as global climate change becomes an increasingly serious issue.

It's amazing how much attention these annual awards get each year. I guess that most of the nominees have particular cultural significance for the year in which they are nominated and as such, people relish the opportunity to hear a bit more about the history and formation of the words themselves as well as the concepts they embody.

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