Waiting for the word of 2014



For 2014 there seems to be no leading candidate for Word (or Phrase) of the Year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of candidates. Just last week, for example, the news from Washington was generously sprinkled with enhanced interrogation techniques, the disputed CIA practice for obtaining information, and cromnibus, the disputed Congressional practice for obtaining government funding.

The lack of an obvious WOTY 2014 doesn’t mean that the American Dialect Society won’t choose one at its annual meeting with the Linguistic Society of America in Portland on January 9. Indeed, it will make discussion and voting more lively. In lieu of an obvious favorite, the various candidates will need well-argued support (in 30-second speeches) from among the 200 or so word experts who attend the meeting.

In an off-year like the current one, there is the risk that the chosen WOTY will be too obscure, or too clever, to have had much impact during the year. In fact the society’s very first choice , for 1990, was bushlips “insincere political rhetoric,” tweaking the first President Bush for going back on his pledge “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Thankfully, nothing quite as obscure has been chosen since, though in 2006 plutoed “being demoted” came close.

But what about the candidates for 2014? I have been privileged to get an advance look at lists compiled by two professional word watchers: David Barnhart, editor of the Barnhart Dictionary Companion, and Grant Barrett, co-host of the public radio show, A Way with Words. Each offers dozens of candidates, and their lists demonstrate the lack of front-runners. The two lists are almost entirely different, aside from a nod to ebola in both.

From David Barnharrt’s list of two dozen words:

biobot, an insect or other life form controllable by computer
carbon farming, planting trees
PED, performance enhancing drug used by athletes
ransomware, software that restricts access to one’s computer until a ransom is paid
terror tourist, one who travels as a tourist to engage in or support terrorism
twerk, the dance

From Grant Barrett’s list of more than four dozen:

ammosexual, extreme gun enthusiast
budtender, like a bartender for marijuana
can’t even, inability to do something
creepypasta, scary Internet stories
normcore, wearing ordinary rather than fashionable clothing
polar vortex, very cold air from up north
poor door, in New York City, separate entrance to an apartment complex for those who rent “affordable” apartments rather than luxury ones

As for me, I’m still holding out hope for selfie, the signature word for the signature innovation of the millennial generation. Others will say selfie is so 2013, but I can point to the innovation of the selfie stick (for holding out the camera to take a broader view, another of Barrett’s choices) and the popularity of the Chainsmokers’ song “Selfie.” Who could resist a word that earned first place in Entertainment Weekly‘s December 12 list of “worst albums, songs & videos”? EW explains, “between its dirt-stupid beats and vacant video (which has more than 260 million views, ‘Selfie’ is Exhibit A for giving the entire Internet a Viking funeral and starting over again.”

Whatever! In any case, it’s not too late to nominate a candidate of your own. Just send it to [email protected]. And for further information on WOTY, go to the American Dialect Society website.