American Dialect Society · Ben Zimmer · Mr Verb · WOTY


It’s the time of the year once again for the WOTY! What’s this, you wonder? WOTY is the Word of the Year, each year decided on by the AmericanDialect Society. At the annual conference in Portland, Oregon, Ben Zimmer* is chairing the New Words Committee, which decides on the WOTY.

This year’s nominations (from Zimmer’s VisualThesaurus) are the usual mix of the spellbindingly creative to the unambiguously abhorrent. Some of the words are off the cultural register for many, shall we say, older people in the UK. For example, I had no idea what a ‘kardash’ might be but my youngest daughter worked it out straight away. Apparently, Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries lasted only seventy-two days and a ‘kardash’ is now a short-lived union of two people in matrimony.
Some of the words have already passed their sell-by date: utter the words ‘Arab Spring’, ‘cloud’, ‘tablet’ and ‘occupy’ and it’s difficult not to stifle a yawn.
However, uncomfortable it feels in the mouth, ‘humblebrag’ – according to Zimmer, ‘an expression of false humility, especially by celebrities on Twitter’ – seems particularly apposite at the moment. ‘Tiger mother/Tiger mom’ may also gain in popularity as parents raise their expectations for their children’s academic performance.
My favourite word of the moment – a year’s a long time in neologisms – ‘bazinga’! OK, so you don’t watch ‘The Big Bang Theory’, to which I am fast becoming addicted, but if it’s getting my daughter to think that it’s cool to do physics, it’s fine by me.
For all my yawning, ‘occupy’ is the WOTY!
Thanks to Mr Verb for giving me the heads-up from the conference.

*Ben Zimmer, now working for the Boston Globe, is the former ‘On Language’ columnist for The New York Times. He also contributes to the weblog ‘Language Log’.