Sunday, December 30, 2012

Word of the Year 2012

Over the past few weeks, the news has been full of end-of-the-year lists. Several groups have come out with their choice for word of the year 2012, so today we're going to take a look at some the current and previous winners and what they say about our use of language.

Oxford Dictionaries UK
The Oxford Dictionaries have different words of the year for each side of the pond, undoubtedly due to the extensive lexical differences between British and American English. The British Word of the Year is omnishambles. It's a new term created by the writers of the political satire The Thick of It which combines the Latin prefix omni- meaning "all" and the English word shambles, meaning "a situation of total disorder". An omnishambles generally refers to a string of blunders and mistakes due to mismanagement. Soon after its use on the television program, it was used by British politicians. It has also led to the creation of similar words such as Romneyshambles, which describes American presidential candidate Mitt Romney's doubts that the London Olympics would be successful, and omnivoreshambles, in reference to a proposed badger cull.

Poor, innocent badger.

Previous winners include 2005's sudoku, which rose to prominence as it took over the spot next to the crossword puzzle in newspapers as a relaxing game to do while you sip a cup of tea, and 2007's carbon footprint, which refers to the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions a person, event, or object creates.

Oxford Dictionaries USA
This year, they decided to bestow the honor upon GIF. If you don't use the computer for much more than checking your email, you probably don't know that a GIF file is "a compressed file format for images that  can be used to create simple, looping animations".If you still don't know what we're talking about, you can always check out these GIFs from the London Olympics. However, the word of the year was not a noun, but instead a verb form of GIF meaning "to create a GIF file".

Previous winners include 2009's unfriend, which undoubtedly appeared in the dictionary due to its constant use in reference to Facebook, and 2006's carbon-neutral which describes the ecological movement to keep your carbon emissions to a minimum and even work to offset them by planting trees or using solar power. 

This American dictionary chooses their Word of the Year based on the frequency that words are looked up in their online version. This year, they chose two winners: socialism and capitalism. During the American presidential election, these words were thrown around quite a bit, despite the fact that many Americans do not know their precise definitions. At least this proves that some took the initiative to learn what they meant! Socialism was used especially often by conservative groups as an attack on Barack Obama's policies, to the point that many became convinced that it and communism are the same, which is not at all true.

Socialism also worried conservatives
in Britain in 1909.

Previous winners include 2008's bailout and 2006's truthiness, a term coined by political satirist Stephen Colbert which he defines as "truth that comes from the gut, not books". The American Dialect Society also defines it as "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true". It was often used in reference to former U.S. President George W. Bush.
This website chose bluster, which meant "to wander or stray" in Old English. Nowadays, it means "to roar and be tumultuous, as wind" as well as "noisy, empty threats or protests; inflated talk". It was chosen in reference to all the political blustering going on this year, especially in the U.S. Congress, which can't seem to get anything done.

This person seems to be caught riding
in a blustery snowstorm.

Last year's winner was tergiversate, which is quite a mouthful! It means "to repeatedly change one's attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; to equivocate", which they felt summed up the year well.

American Dialect Society
Every year, this group takes nominations for the Word of the Year, which is then voted on in the beginning of January by their members, who include linguists, grammarians, etymologists, writers, professors, and scholars. This year's candidates are likely to include selfie, a photo you take of yourself (usually so you can upload it onto Facebook or Twitter), and malarkey, an Irish-American word meaning "nonsense" that has regained popularity due to its use by American Vice President Joe Biden. We'll just have to wait and see what the winner is!

If you think you have a better Word of the Year, let us know in the comments below!