This time of year brings out the “Best of” lists. Any blogger (and..er..Examiner) can slap together a completely subjective list of Best Movies of 2011 (clearly, “The Artist”), Best Song of 2011 (clearly, anything by Adele), or Best New TV Comedy of 2011 (clearly, “New Girl”).
The world of words also has lists. A personal favourite is the Plain English Campaign’s awards. They honour examples of clear, plain communication in government and media, but also hand out the Foot in Mouth Award to a public figure that says something, well, stupid. Silvio Berlusconi won easily with the gem “I am pretty often faithful” and for his description of Barack Obama as “Handsome, young and also suntanned”. Plain English is a British organization, so maybe they haven’t met Doug Ford and his lack of knowledge about libraries (“Etobicoke has more libraries than Tim Hortons.”) and Margaret Atwood( “I don’t even know her.”).
Dictionaries award “Word of the Year”. This year, Oxford chose squeezed middle, which does not refer to what happens when you try to put on your favouite jeans after a Christmas week of cookies and carbohydrates. It’s the effect of higher prices and taxes on the people who can least afford it. So, um…everyone is a squeezed middle.
Merriam Webster chose their WOTY based on frequency of “look ups” in their online dictionary. The winner: pragmatic. How…pragmatic. The shocking thing here is that people apparently don’t know what “pragmatic” means — they will, as they become the “squeezed middle.” New computer and cell phone every year? Nope, not pragmatic.
Merriam Webster also lists the most popular searches by week. For the month of December, they were: blasphemy, zany, yuletide and qi. As in “The blasphemy of these zany yuletide traditions is sapping my qi.” All this really means is that a lot of families were playing Scrabble in late December and arguing with the snotty relative who knows qi and all the other two-letter words (Author’s Note: I know. I AM that relative).
New words (or, for the fancy folk, “neologisms”) also crop up on lists at this time of year. The dictionary writers are always a bit behind the curve on this one, since they only include a word when it has reached a sustainable level of widespread usage. For example, Merriam Webster’s new list includes both tweet and social media which are hardly that new anymore. The funner (MW says this can be used “sometimes” ) lists are the ones that attempt to capture new slang, which is usually old by the time it hits the list, like this one that includes the 80s word chillin’ and the 90s upgrade chillaxin’. Mind you, tope seems to be a new one, which apparently means both “tight” and “dope”.
Getting back to that subjectivity mentioned earlier: two nominees for Word of the Year: “awesomesauce” and “nom.” As in: “Double chocolate brownies? Awesomesauce! Nom nom nom nom nom.” Words should be delicious.