In the News: WOTY Conference Championships
Judging by my Facebook feed, no major sports are in their playoffs right now, but there does seem to be smallish hoopla over conference championships in college football. I know little about it, but there’s a familiar feel to it. It’s the same sort of excitement that wordsmiths get as the various “Word of the Year” picks begin to roll in. We’re still in the early weeks of the season, but a few word conferences have already reported in with their WOTY champions, leading to a number of interesting after-game discussions.
Oxford Dictionaries Conference
For the first time in Oxford Dictionaries history, the U.S. and UK teams have chosen one WOTY.
squeezed middle n. the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes, and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty, consisting principally of those people on low or middle incomes
Squeezed middle may seem like an odd choice for Word of the Year, but Oxford Dictionaries allows words or phrases (last year’s UK WOTY was big society) and considers squeezed middle to be a compound word. Language Log’s Geoffrey Pullum disagrees, saying that squeezed middle is not a compound and that “the word of the year should be a word.” Pullum’s colleague Ben Zimmer agrees with him that squeezed middle is not a compound, but defends compositional phrases as being “sufficiently lexicalized for consideration as Word of the Year.” Mark Liberman suggests a separate competition (or two) for Phrase of the Year to “restore relative peace to the Language Log Senior Common Room.” His POTY nominees: “texting glove” and “Occupy Wall Street.”
Following their Facebook fans’ preferences regarding method of selection, Dictionary.com chose a word that “captures the character of 2011, regardless of its popularity or ubiquity.” Its WOTY likely caused a number of readers to scramble for their dictionaries.
tergiversate v. to change repeatedly one's attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate
According to Jay Schwartz, Dictionary.com's head of content, "It's immensely rewarding to find existing words that capture a precise experience, and this year, tumult has been the norm rather than the exception.” Web of Language’s Dennis Baron, however, did not find this choice particularly rewarding.
Web of Language Conference
In response to Dictionary.com’s WOTY pick, Dennis Baron, professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois, tweeted that “WOTY should not have to be defined for us.” Baron selected a more common, though no less tumultuous word.
volatility n. the property or state of evaporating readily, varying often or widely, or tending to violence [paraphrased from the AHD]
Baron notes that “given the daily shake ups not just of the year that was, but of the ten years since 9/11, volatility could well be the word of the decade, and with no end to volatility in sight, it could be the word for the entire twenty-first century.”
Upcoming Conferences and a Call for Nominations
More top word (or phrase) picks and lists will be coming out over the next several weeks. Later this month, for example, Merriam-Webster’s WOTY will tell us what word users looked up the most in 2011. The American Dialect Society’s WOTY will be chosen at its annual meeting in January. Nominations of words for the ADS to consider can be emailed or posted to Twitter or Facebook. See ADS’s “What’s Your Word of the Year” for more information.