Another year, another word

January 17, 2012

You’d think that here at Wordville there would be some excitement about the Word of the Year, but meh.

Part of the lack of enthusiasm is that there are so many Words of the Year. Merriam-Webster went for pragmatic. Time picked occupy. liked tergiversate. Oxford Dictionaries picked squeezed middle, which prompted a well-bred skirmish between Geoffrey Pullum and Ben Zimmer over whether the Word of the Year had to be a single word (Pullum, yea; Zimmer, nay; McIntyre, meh). The American Dialect Society, which considers the Word of the Year “in its broader sense as ‘vocabulary item’ — not just words but phrases,” will convene in Portland, Oregon, next week and vote on its choice.

(I voted for the Word of the Year in 2010 when the American Dialect Society met in Baltimore—anyone who happens to be in the room gets to vote—and no longer remember which word won. And am too lazy to look it up. You see how enthusiasm can flag.)

Over at Slate, Ron Rosenbaum has weighed in as the “catchphrase executioner” to condemn “stupid and annoying” words and phrases of the year. As Jan Freeman trenchantly points out, the article is an ill-researched guide to what irritates Ron Rosenbaum and has little utility beyond that.

There, I think, is where my meh-ness kicks in about Words of the Year. There would be interest in looking at nonce words and phrases to examine what they indicate about social and cultural preoccupations. But they are more likely to provide material for people’s lists of pet peeves, fueling grandiose posturing as the “catchphrase executioner” for the nation.

Meanwhile—and I do have the grace to blush—the word of the week at is Yule.

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