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Another year, another word

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. Dictionary.com 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 baltimoresun.com is Yule.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:44 AM | | Comments (10)
        

Comments

It seems fitting to give the nod to "occupy" as this year's word. It solved a vexing problem, to wit: What the heck were we to call this ... thing? Was it a movement? Was there a message? A leader? There were a number of open questions.

Calling it "occupy" both framed and explained the protests in the simplest form, without editorializing on their legitacy or purpose. Once coined, the term went instantly viral. It also served as an instruction manual for those who wanted to join in: Occupy something.

Easy pick for word of the year. Nothing else even came close.

Golly gee, Mr. Science!

When I was reading this morning's quarrel, I came across the word "meh". I thought I knew it from the context, but I still like to look things up.

And it is not in the M-W Third Int.

I found it in American Heritage defined as "indifferent."

I was modestly indifferent to your post before I came across meh.

How can this be? M-W doesn't have a word that is a word.

Confused.

Little Jimmy.


In the spirit of the soon-to-be-convening American Dialect Society's less restrictive 'vocabulary item'/ significant phrase criteria, I would say, hands down, "Arab Spring" should get the nod. Period.

"Arab Spring" became 2011's catch-all banner media moniker for the incredible grassroots groundswell of populist in-the-streets-of-the-Middle-East protests against long-standing tyrannical rule------- the mass outcry for basic freedoms and some semblance of democratic rule, by the people, and for the people.

Of course, any rumblings of political street protest in the country of Iran this year would technically not come under the rubric of the Arab Spring, since Iranians consider themselves as Persians, and not Arabs. However, on the Iranian front, the protest imperative was rather muted this year, compared to the exuberance expressed so passionately a few years back, when the thwarted Green freedom movement erupted w/ so much early promise, only to be sadly quashed by swift, and sometimes lethal government strong-arm push-back.

A singular word that seems to be used this year w/ great regularity by media wonks and politicians alike, i.e., in 'political speak', is "headwinds". I think it may have unofficially replaced the over-used "challenges" as the word that best encapsulates the sense of difficulties yet to come, or ill-winds that could soon blow.

Although I applaud those common folk, (and uncommon folk, for that matter), who have sincerely participated in "occupy" movements in the U.S. and many cities around the globe, to me the word still has a kind of benign feel about it, perhaps a cut above the implications of the term squatter.

In other words, IMHO, "occupy" doesn't have a very strong, intrinsic activist thrust about it. Basically plop one's 'bod' down on public property and kevetch to one's heart content, w/ only a kind of basic, amorphous notion about what the real collective grievances are about. Clearly the 99%-ers are mad-as-hell, and aren't going to take it from the wealthiest 1%. But beyond the occupiers shorthand rhetoric, fuming, and fussing, where are the pragmatic first steps in trying to change the imbalanced status quo----the minority "haves" versus the majority "have-nots"?

I concede that in looking at the storied history of major displays of civil disobedience in this country, from the populist-inspired Civil Rights movement in the '60s and early '70s, to the campus protests over the war in Vietnam, the strategy of occupying, or sitting put, as well as marching, en masse in the streets, were viable mechanisms of political protest. (Hmm........ I think I might have contradicted the tenor of my earlier take on "occupy" in its political context. Oh well.)

Frankly, in my view, picking a Word of the Year is about as meaningless as choosing Time's "Person of the Year", or People magazine's "Handsomest Man in the World". Perhaps fun pop culture diversions, but I believe most serious-minded folks could really care less.

ALEX

It may be worthwhile to discuss the merits, as well as the various spellings, of the word "meh" (which, for the record, is my chosen spelling). It sometimes appears in other online writings as either "eh" or "euh," but I personally feel the pop of the letter M is crucial to emphasizing the commitment to apathy. It is interesting to look at the way a commonly SPOKEN word evolves as it eventually finds its way into our written language.

I come across "eh" -- and now that I think of it have used it myself -- but do not recall "meh". Maybe I tuned out the "m" when I was listening.

Thanks Katie. Learn something new . . .


Katie Canuck,

From one fellow Canadian to another, I'd try to avoid using the written "eh" version of "meh", eh?

I can see "eh" in its spoken form sounding much like "meh", but clearly sans the "m", w/ maybe a Trudeau-esque gallic shrug thrown in for good measure. Indifference personified, as it were.

In its written form "eh" might be confused w/ our quirky Canuck perfunctory end-of-sentence query, "eh ?". (Admittedly the questioning tone in the spoken form does establish a clear distinction.)

I'm curious Katie, from what part of our-home-and-native-land do you hail, eh?

Inquiring expats want to know.

ALEX

There sure are a lot of words of the year. I'm thinking of choosing "word of the year" as MY word (or vocabulary item) of the year.

Alex (and others),

I'm from the lovely Toronto suburb of Mississauga, but am working and living in the Big Smoke these days (Globe and Mail).

Have previously worked at a number of small and medium Ontario papers -- "notably" the Timmins Daily Press, with a circulation smaller than my university's campus paper (and the original Thomson property). But as many readers of this blog know, you sure learn a lot about readers when you're working in a smaller community.

The Ladies of Mississauga (by Thorn Birds wirter)! That's a real place?


Eve,

Indeed, the suburb of Mississauga IS "a real place", a thriving sector of the sprawling metropolis of Greater Metro Toronto. (Or at least it was, last time I checked. HA!)

In fact, Toronto's seemingly-always-in-a-state-of-construction Lester B. Pearson International Airport is situated in the heart of Mississauga. I most recently flew into this first-class air-traffic hub for our Canadian Thanksgiving week celebrations this past October.

The suburb of Mississauga, as I recall, was named after a tribe of indigenous First Nations People who thrived in that particular woodlands region of Southern Ontario for hundreds of years prior to first-contact w/ European explorers, fur trappers, and such.

@Katie, very cool that you are working for Toronto's venerable paper, The Globe & Mail. I always look forward to coming home to Richmond Hill for special visits w/ my mum, and just immersing myself in the pages of 'the Globe', particularly their , IMHO, unrivaled Saturday "Globe Arts" (and Books) section. My dear mum, soon-to-turn-87-years-young, has had regular home delivery of The Globe & Mail for over 40 years........ and counting.

In my view you can't beat their consistently superb graphics ( both photography and illustration), engaging page layout, and high caliber writing, in what was once deemed Canada's foremost business daily (except Sundays), a la The Wall St. Journal. Although you folks still give a hefty review and analysis of all-things-business in your solid Report on Business section.

Being a cartoonist myself, and having grown up completely idolizing the work of the late incomparable editorial cartoonist Duncan Macpherson, who performed his satirical magic for over four decades at your rival paper, The Toronto Star, I have to say I hold 'The Globe's' in-house cartoonist-of-all-trades, Anthony Jenkins, in the most high regard. I especially look forward to his celebrity caricature illustrations in the annual year-end two-full-page-spread humongous crossword puzzle. Frankly, I find that sea of squares much too daunting to even attempt a go at it, but for me Jenkin's drawings just hit the spot every time.

On the other hand, I find your regular editorial cartoonist, Gable, kind of hit-and-miss, w/ a graphic style that is highly derivative of a half-dozen popular U.S. political cartoonists. I wish Jenkins would handle more of the editorial work. He does occasionally sub for Gable, I've noticed.

Well I could heap praise on 'The Globe' till the cows come home, so I'll just get out of Medicine Hat ( keeping it Canadian) while the goin's good.

Katie, by-the-by, great to have you on board the good ship "You Don't Say". The more Canucks the merrier, I always say, eh?

ALEX

P.S.: ----Katie, wonder if there'll be a sequel to "The Ladies of Mississauga"? Say perhaps "The Broads of Etobicoke". (Inside joke for Southern Ontarians only.)

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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