Last month I examined the newly popular phrase fiscal cliff, a contender for the various Words of the Year traditionally announced every winter. The main such event is the American Dialect Society’s, which took place earlier this month. Its full list of nominated words and other “vocabulary items” in different categories is always worth reading, offering an insight into the neologisms and catchphrases that caught people’s imaginations over the course of the year.
In the main category, fiscal cliff was soon left standing by the progressive term marriage equality – which had already been voted Most Useful – and by the surprise nomination hashtag, which went on to win. Though some observers found hashtag a bit 2011, there’s no denying its growing profile. As Ben Zimmer, Chair of the ADS New Words Committee, remarked, hashtag has even been heard in speech, “introducing a snappy metacommentary on what had just been said”. (That last link, by the way, includes video footage from the proceedings.)
Most readers will recognise some nominated terms and be less familiar with others. Gate lice (“airline passengers who crowd around a gate waiting to board”), voted Most Creative, was new to me but made immediate visual sense. Still, I’d have liked to see mansplaining win (“a man’s condescending explanation to a female audience”). It’s not especially creative – just another man-word, really – but it is very useful and has inspired several variations, such as whitesplaining, geeksplaining, and others based specifically on people’s names.
Portmanteaus, being a popular form of neologisms, feature prominently in the American Dialect Society list. There’s the unpromising beardruff and alpacalypse, the political pejoratives Romnesia and Obamageddon, and the widely reviled phablet. This latter may seem too silly-sounding to catch on – together with YOLO it was voted Least Likely to Succeed – but don’t forget the derision that greeted iPad when it first appeared, or how quickly we got over it.
Joint winners in the Most Useful category were –(ma)geddon and –(po)calypse, so-called “disaster libfixes”, though the Economist was not convinced they deserved it. Honourable mention goes to hate-watching (“continuing to follow a television show despite having an aversion to it”). A friend who works in a newsroom told me she hate-watched The Newsroom and “almost took pleasure in how divorced from reality it was and how hackneyed the script was”. Beyond a certain point of irritation, we may feel a perverse kind of enjoyment. That may be a good approach to phrases we hate.Email this Post