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Should ‘tweet’, ‘Twitter’ or ‘unfriend’ be the 2009 word of the year?

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January 18, 2010

Should ‘tweet’, ‘Twitter’ or ‘unfriend’ be the 2009 word of the year?

Should ‘tweet’, ‘Twitter’ or ‘unfriend’ be the 2009 word of the year?

The English language is continually evolving and thanks to the technology of the 21st century – including the media and internet - new words and phrases are being created at an unprecedented rate. Increasingly, these new words result from our love affair with the internet, online social networking sites and geek-speak. This year, the American Dialect Society (ADS) has voted “tweet” – a short message sent via Twitter – as the 2009 word of the year. But two other organizations disagreed. The Global Language Monitor nominated “Twitter” as the word of the year and the New Oxford American Dictionary claimed “unfriend” – meaning to “de-friend” someone on a social networking site such as Facebook – deserved the 2009 word of the year award.

The ADS nominations

The more amusing and interesting word and phrase nominations were found in ADS’s most creative, most unnecessary, most euphemistic and most outrageous categories. What’s a Dracula sneeze? It’s the art of covering your mouth with the crook of your elbow when you sneeze – remember those movies when Dracula covers the bottom part of his face with his cloak. Then there’s botax – a play on botox, meaning a proposed levy for cosmetic procedures and sexting – sending sexual messages or photos by your cell phone.

Current affairs also gave rise to new words - how about Salahi - meaning to gate-crash? It’s named after Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who attended a White House event without an invite. A flurry of descriptive phrases emerged after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a domestic aircraft on Christmas Day using a liquid bomb contained in his underpants – what about pants bomber, underpants bomber, panty bomber or eunuch bomber? Or the phrase - hike the Appalachian trail? It means to go away to have sex with an illicit lover – and resulted after South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford visited his mistress in Argentina. Then of course there was octomom - which was used to describe Nadya Suleman, after she gave birth to octuplets.

The ADS contenders

This year, there were four other contenders for word of the year - H1N1 – the name of the virus that causes swine flu, the suffix -er – used at the end of words such as birther - someone who challenges Obama’s birth certificate, fail – a noun or interjection that describes something egregiously unsuccessful and public option – a healthcare program run by the government that some people want as part of the nation’s healthcare reform.

The ADS word of the decade is “google” – a generic form of “Google” - defined as the act of searching the internet. It could have also been blog, or one of its many offspring - blogosphere, blogerati, milblog, or blogola. Other nominations included 9/11, green – related to environmental protection, text, and wireless networks.

The vote

The 20th annual words of the year vote took place in Baltimore on January 8, 2010. It is the longest-running such vote anywhere and the society’s members may include linguists, grammarians, historians, university students, authors, editors, and independent scholars. The aim is not to necessarily make official new words but to have fun and show that language is ever-changing.

According to Grant Barrett, editor of the column “Among the New Words” in the ADS’s quarterly academic journal, American Speech, the words are reflective of the way we use the internet. He said, “Both words are, in the end, products of the Information Age, where every person has the ability to satisfy curiosity and to broadcast to a select following, both via the Internet. I really thought blog would take the honors in the word of the decade category, but more people google than blog, don’t they? Plus, many people think ‘blog’ just sounds ugly. Maybe Google’s trademark lawyers would have preferred it, anyway.”

Last year’s winner was bailout – the word used to describe the rescue by government of companies in financial difficulty. In 2007, it was subprime – a dodgy investment and the 2006 word of the year was to be plutoed, or to pluto – to be devalued or demoted. New words also arise from current affairs, in 2002, the word of the year was weapons of mass destruction or WMD, and in 2001 - 9-11, 9/11 or September 11.

Global Language Monitor’s word of the year

The Global Language Monitor (GLM) analyzes and tracks language trends all over the world, with a focus on the English language. It announced that “Twitter” was the 2009 top word in its global survey of the English language conducted annually. Other popular words were Twittered, Obama, H1N1, stimulus, and vampire. A suffix 2.0 came in at number six and the remaining four were deficit, hadron, healthcare, and transparency.

Paul JJ Payack, President of the GLM, said, “In a year dominated by world-shaking political events, a pandemic, the after effects of a financial tsunami and the death of a revered pop icon, the word Twitter stands above all the other words. Twitter represents a new form of social interaction, where all communication is reduced to 140 characters. Being limited to strict formats did wonders for the sonnet and haiku. One wonders where this highly impractical word-limit will lead as the future unfolds.”

GLM analyzes words across the globe using a proprietary algorithm called the predictive quantities indicator (PQI). It looks for words and phrases in the media and on the internet, including blogs and social media. Factors such as frequency, contextual usage and appearance in global media outlets are considered when tracking words.

According to GLM, words that should be included in a words of the decade list include global warming, 9/11, and Obama. Other words in line were bailout, evacuate and derivative. Unlike the ADS, GLM had Google down the list along with Chinglish, surge and tsunami.

New Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year

Oxford University Press has announced that the New Oxford American Dictionary’s – the process of removing a friend from a social network site such as Facebook.

Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford’s US dictionary program, said, “It has both currency and potential longevity. In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year.”

Other notable words considered for the word of the year were funemployed – when you take advantage of your newly unemployed status to have fun, zombie bank – a financial institution that has more liabilities than assets but due to government support continues to operate and hashtag – a hash sign that is added to a word or phrase on Twitter and allows users to look for tweets that contain similar items.

Then there’s the Obamamisms – Obamanomics, Obamarama, Obamasty and Obamacons – to name a few. Or the Twitterisms included Tweetup, Tweets, Twitterature, Twitterverse and Tweetaholic. Or the novelty words deleb - a dead celebrity and tramp stamp – a tattoo on the lower back.

It’s hard to choose my favorite but I think it would either be intexticated – which is used to describe being distracted because you are texting whilst driving or bragabond - a person who travels a lot and boasts about it. What do you think should be the word of the year for 2009?

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