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Your BuzzWords of 2012

The Macmillan Dictionary BuzzWord feature turns 10 years old later this month! To celebrate this 10th anniversary, we will be posting interesting BuzzWord-related content here on the blog throughout the year.

The first in this series is a quick look back at the BuzzWords of 2012. We asked our regular blog contributors the following couple of questions:

Which is YOUR favourite BuzzWord in 2012? And if you’ve found a personal favourite, could you explain in a few words why that is your choice of BuzzWord in 2012?

And here is what they all had to say. Please add your favourites in a comment below!

It would have to be omnishambles. It’s just such a fun-looking, fun-sounding word – it looks great on the page and is fabulous to get your tongue around, its very enunciation somehow expressing the frustration you might feel at situations of ineffectual performance. It’s my guess/hope that it’ll gain wider currency in contexts outside of politics in the months to come. I also like the fact that it applies the lesser-used prefix omni– (‘all and everywhere’).
Kerry Maxwell

Whilst omnishambles and skeuomorphic are great-sounding words, it’s the slightly less creative tech-life balance that jumps out at me as a term really worth talking about. As an RSI sufferer, I’ve spent more than a decade battling to keep my own tech usage to a minimum. Recently though, especially with the spread of smartphones, I’m really starting to notice how the time my friends and family spend fiddling with their techie gadgets is starting to impact on our relationships. Perhaps 2013 is the year for all of us to think about our tech-life balance?
Julie Moore

As someone who is always behind the curve, technologically speaking, I enjoy the BuzzWord articles that open my eyes to some previously unnoticed bit of technology: so 4-D, QR code, Li-Fi, lights-out and several others all hit that spot; but I also love the ones that reveal hitherto undreamed-of weirdnesses of human behaviour – tiger mother and family balancing scored highly here. But the best for me was one that combined both these things: weird behaviour that involves the use of new technology. Yes, I’m talking about lifelogging. To (almost) quote Gill Francis’s recent post: How weird is THAT!
Liz Potter

My favourite is hat tip. When I was growing up, there was a gent who lived down the street from us, and he always wore a trilby when he was out, and he always tipped his hat when he encountered anyone else. Even then – and this was a good few years ago – it was a very old-fashioned kind of behaviour, and I’m glad to see the practice resuscitated in the digital age, albeit in written form only. It brings back images of trilbies and homburgs, which you don’t see so often now. I can’t imagine a hat tip being effected with a baseball cap, and certainly not a reverse-baseball cap.
Stephen Bullon

The two I like are:
1) squeezed middle – there is something that makes me cringe so much it makes me giggle about the implication of the noble long-suffering hard-done-by middle classes
2) tiger mother: I saw a TV programme on one of these with a son who had done piano practice and three hours homework before my kids had managed a yawn – and that was just the morning session. It does seem to be an alarming species invading from East Asia – wildly unfamiliar to us in its expectation that children will work, and hard; undoubtedly set to take over. I look at my own parenting behaviour and feel like a stranded jellyfish. Tiger mothers are a terrifying force.

But note: there are indigenous versions. Attend when mothers get going on the topic of catchment areas and the school their child is going to get into, listen carefully, and you hear the contemporary human equivalent of the she-tiger fighting for the survival of her cubs.
Adam Kilgarriff

My favourite is crowdfunding. I like the sound of the word and the spirit behind it.
Dymphna Lonergan

Mine has to be mummy porn. Two words whose individual meanings conjure up such different mental images and yet there is something slightly rebellious in putting the two together. Who says mummies can’t enjoy porn!
Charlotte Ellis

I’m partial to biomimicry, because it’s an interesting idea and is fun to pronounce, but my favourite has to be humblebrag. For one thing it’s even more fun to say, and more importantly it fills a useful lexical gap for a phenomenon I see regularly not just on Twitter but offline too. It has also been quite (and quietly) productive, giving rise to such variations as underbrag and disclosurebrag.
Stan Carey (Sentence first)

I’d probably go for troll as my favourite BuzzWord from 2012. It’s a great example of how we recycle and repurpose words to reflect changing social habits and interactions. At its heart, trolling is a nasty, cowardly way to treat someone, relying on the supposed anonymity of the Internet, but as a word it’s interesting to see that it combines the fairytale monster sense of the word, as well as apparently having links to the idea of trawling as used in fishing. Vocal fry would be my runner-up, not so much for its existence as a phrase, but just because I have a sad, middle-aged crush on Zooey Deschanel and she is one of its finest exponents.
Dan Clayton (English Language @SFX)

Hat tip is my favourite. I find it so useful when I want to thank somebody for passing information along. It’s more than just thanks though because it’s also a public award of esteem, and that can get tricky if someone’s used to negative politeness. ‘What right have you got to pass judgment on me?’ they might think. But somehow hat tip seems to sidestep the issue and accomplish the compliment in a non-threatening way. So here’s a hat tip to whoever coined hat tip.
Vicki Hollett
(Learning to speak ‘merican)

My favourite is babylag. This explain-everything word has been missing from all new parents’ vocabulary up till now. It would have been so much easier when I had my baby (23 years ago) to have simply been able to say “I’m suffering from babylag” rather than having to explain why I was late, wearing my clothes inside out, looking like a zombie etc by saying “well, the baby woke me up 5 times during the night and I had to stay with her until she went back to sleep, blah blah blah …’.
Karen Richardson

My favourite is overvote. It means what it says, both individually and collectively. It reads like part of the system, which it is, electoral politics having been hijacked. And it has the right sound, a combination of world-weariness and impatience. For similar reasons I liked the precariat from the year before.
Tony Voss

I’ve enjoyed reading through the BuzzWord articles. I very much like man up and hat tip, but I think my favourite 2012 BuzzWord is probably skeuomorphic. It’s not a word I had come across before, though, as Kerry points out in her article, it’s by no means a recent coinage. I’ve often wondered how to describe such anachronistic-but-useful computer icons as the floppy disk for ‘save’ and the hourglass for ‘wait until finished’, and now I know.
Andrew Delahunty

Humblebrag is my favorite BuzzWord from 2012. Why? Well, you have to master the ART of humblebragging so as not to sound like a real braggart. You have to carefully choose your words and body language. You don’t want people saying that you are this and that. So, due to the level of difficulty involved in the humblebragging act, I have to say this is really a great word to describe an incredible way of subtly telling people that you’ve been doing your best in all aspects.
Denilso de Lima (

I like omnishambles because of the shape of the word, the feel of it on my tongue and the way it ambles, almost descriptively, from the lips. It’s a warm word, almost a gentle, teasing way of describing something which could be quite harsh.

I like omnishambolic even better!
Caroline Skydemore (née Short)

My BuzzWord of the year… mummy porn
I heard this word first while reading an English newspaper on one of my trips. It was in reference to, of course, the book Fifty Shades of Grey. During the course of the year I must have seen that book at almost every major international airport I went to (over twenty). And not just one or two copies – dozens of them piled on high. I think it just goes to show the power of mass marketing how much that book actually sold. I haven’t read it, but my wife did. She said she really didn’t understand the fuss. I read a few extracts myself – yes, I’ll admit, the naughty bits – and frankly I think the term mummy porn is a way of dressing up the word erotica. Or perhaps, let’s call a spade a spade and continue to call it pornography.
Lindsay Clandfield (About Lindsay)

OK, I’ll say that my favo(u)rite buzzword is onesie, since it was featured in one of my earliest blog posts about American/British English differences. There, discussing baby clothing, I gave the British equivalent as babygro, but that word doesn’t fit quite right when the trend is for adults to wear them. So, now British English has two words (onesie/babygro) a concept that isn’t so divided in American English (where they can all be called onesies). For someone like me who likes to think about the relations between concepts and words and the differences in them across dialects, that’s fun.
Lynne Murphy (separated by a common language)

Of all the 2012 BuzzWords, I’m going to select medal (as a verb) as my favourite for the year. This is for two reasons. First of all, this kind of conversion – in this case of a noun to a verb – demonstrates the fantastic flexibility of the English language. Words cross over from one class to another very easily. Each time they do that, it’s guaranteed to wind up self-appointed language mavens, which is another reason to welcome it. The second reason I’ve gone for medal is that the London Olympics and Paralympics of 2012 were seminal events in British life, events which reflected back to British people a view of being British that surprised and delighted them. And a relative of mine ‘medalled’ in the wheelchair marathon!
Steve Taylore-Knowles

Difficult choice! There are so many great ones to choose from. Like many others – I have a soft spot for omnishambles (and its originator, the brilliant Malcolm Tucker), and I enjoyed getting acquainted with skeuomorphic. But I’m going to go for crowdfunding – not because it’s a particularly interesting word but because it’s an exciting concept. Its ‘sister’ term crowdsourcing describes a cooperative way of completing very large projects, such as finding new stars, collecting information about bird populations – and helping us keep dictionaries up to date. By tapping into people’s willingness to contribute their time and expertise – with no expectation of financial gain – it defies classical economics and the idea that people won’t do anything unless they’re being paid for it. Crowdfunding, similarly, refers to a bottom-up model for investing in large and complex operations. This means it becomes possible to achieve things without relying on the traditional banking system, which, let’s face it, hasn’t had much to be proud about in recent years. This cheers me up!
Michael Rundell

I’ll go with Steve Taylore-Knowles and choose the verb medal. Verbing is a creative, productive feature of English, as are nouning and other types of ‘conversion’. The principle has entered the system, and can be applied to any number of nouns and verbs to make new senses with different collocates. The ‘self-appointed language mavens’ as Steve puts it, are fond of pouring scorn on ‘verbed’ nouns and ‘nouned’ verbs, but they tend to conduct their attacks in language that is often – dare I say it – ungrammatical: a case of the pot calling the kettle black. My runners-up would be biomimicry, which is a very exciting concept, and glitter-bombing, because it is such a bright idea. And I appreciate the words themselves because, like medal, they illustrate the dynamism and flexibility of English: biomimicry uses the productive prefix bio-, and glitter-bombing is an example of inspired compounding.
Gill Francis

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