The Word of the Year


Early December reliably brings choices for Word of the Year by dictionaries (Oxford, Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, etc.) and linguistics mavens (American Dialect Society, etc.). The words chosen are fingers on the pulse of the Zeitgeist, reflecting obsessions and other forms of memery appearing in the Public Mouth, and sometimes flagging turns of phrase that are especially annoying to some.

So here we reach into the worlds of nonsense and the mythical, the ironic and the poetic. These words all start somewhere, and spread by contagion. As our old friend and cunning linguist Ken Stallcup says, if you ever doubted that one person can change the world, consider the guy who ate undercooked bat...

Remember these? Some have come and gone, some are now enshrined in the Lexicon:Each encapsulates a moment in the history of the Language, and in the behavior of the socio-cultural entity that uses and grows and lives in and by the Language. The WotY (or Words...) might just be the best gauge of who and where we are.. or might just be another diversionary epiphenomenon of the Interwebs that bind us together... And many of those words were spawned and are located on the margins of the Culture Wars; the words are in the crucible of contention. A few are mild, innocuous, merely funny. Ironies abound, and angers are close to the surface.
This year so far:

Wende very reasonably asks: So what is the Question?

Here's what I'm thinking in the forenoon:

?? How do YOU relate to and monitor and read the Zeitgeist? Or is it irrelevant to your life? What have you seen or heard that epitomises where we're at now?

Catch-words and catch-phrases exhibit the mass phenomenon of EMERGENCE in language, as wags coin the words and phrases and people respond by using and thus rediffusing what they hear.

Here's an example:

Think: when did "whisperer" enter the lexicon, as in "horse whisperer"? And how far has it spread? Just yesterday Betsy characterized Brian as "a tree whisperer". Was that the first instantiation of that particular trope, its way prepared in our minds by Richard Powers' Overstory, and Peter Wohlleben's work on the sentience of trees, and Susan Simard on Finding the Mother Tree ...
Another way to frame the Question might be: When were the last times you ran across words that hipper people than yourself seemed to be using as if the words were NORMAL discourse, but you didn't understand? For us old folks this happens frequently. And mostly it doesn't matter to us ...anymore, though once we prized staying au courant with "the Zeitgeist". Maybe it even used to matter a lot, to be part of your identity to keep up with the moving frontiers of language as she is spoken/used.

What do you remember about being au courant when older people weren't?

citing George Booth again:


I have been a collector and savo[u]rer of words and lexical lore all my life, though never very systematic about it. I've explored the Library for relevant dictionaries and other resources, and here's a partial census, with emphasis on slang, which is a prominent growing edge of language:

Green's Dictionary of Slang (Five Hundred Years of the Vulgar Tongue) [a must-see, continuously updated]

Odd Job Man: Some Confessions of a Slang Lexicographer Jonathon Green [2014]

The Jargon File aka The Hacker's Dictionary [see Wikipedia for context]

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows John Koenig [2021]

The Hidden History of Coined Words Ralph Keyes [2021]

The Adventurer's Glossary Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell [2021]

The Evasion-English Dictionary Maggie Balistreri [2018]

Collateral Language: A Users's Guide to America's New War John Collins and Ross Glover [2002]

Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: Colloquialisms, and Catch-Phrases, Solecisms and Catachresis, Nicknames, and Vulgarisms Eric Partridge [1985]

Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang Eric Partridge [1972]

Words In Time and Place: Exploring language through the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary David Crystal [2014]

Words in Time: A Social History of the English Vocabulary Geoffrey Hughes [1988]

Logodaedalian's Dictionary of Interesting and Unusual Words George Stone Saussy III [1989]

Gallimaufry: A Hodgepodge of Our Vanishing Vocabulary Michael Quinion [2009]

The Meaning of Liff: The Original Dictionary Of Things There Should Be Words For Douglas Adams and John Lloyd [1983]

The Deeper Meaning of Liff: A Dictionary of Things There Aren't Any Words for Yet--But There Ought to BeDouglas Adams and John Lloyd [2005]

The First English Dictionary of Slang 1699 B.E., Gent. [2010]