Words and the world col­lide

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

SPRING­FIELD, Mas­sachusetts: When the US House ad­mon­ished rep­re­sen­ta­tive Joe Wil­son for shout­ing “You lie!” at Pres­i­dent Barack Obama dur­ing a health­care speech to Congress, it also sent many peo­ple scurrying to the in­ter­net in search of a def­i­ni­tion.

Ad­mon­ish, a verb dat­ing to the 14th cen­tury mean­ing “to ex­press warn­ing or dis­ap­proval in a gen­tle, earnest, or so­lic­i­tous man­ner”, gen­er­ated enough cu­rios­ity to crown it Mer­riam-Web­ster’s Word of the Year.

It beat sev­eral other fi­nal­ists that emerged from what the dic­tio­nary pub­lisher’s ed­i­tor at large, Peter Sokolowski, called the “in­ter­sec­tion of news and vo­cab­u­lary ” . Run ners-u p an­nounced this week in­cluded in­au­gu­rate, pan­demic, fur­lough and rogue – the lat­ter tied to Sarah Palin and the sole carry- over from last year’s list.

Vir­tu­ally all the words were as­so­ci­ated with a news event or cov­er­age and re­sulted in a pro­longed spike of look-ups on the dic­tio­nary of­fered free on­line by Mer­riam-Web­ster.

“Words that make up this list are words that jumped and stayed up there,” Sokolowski said. “Even if the word was no longer on the front page of the news­pa­per, it was still some­thing that peo­ple were blog­ging about or read­ing about on­line.”

“Ad­mon­ish” shot to the top in part be­cause it was used at sev­eral stages of the story – orig­i­nally to de­scribe the re­ac­tion to Wil­son’s out­burst, then to the ed­i­to­rial re­ac­tion, and fi­nally to the of­fi­cial House res­o­lu­tion ad­mon­ish­ing the South Carolina Repub­li­can.

Dic­tio­nary users may have been seek­ing to dis­tin­guish shades of mean­ing from syn­onyms such as “scold” or “re­buke,” Sokolowski said. Those terms sug­gest a harsher tone, while “ad­mon­ish” sug­gests a de­cid­edly more gen­teel re­sponse.

An­other word on Mer­ri­amWeb­ster’s top 10 list, “ema­ci­ated”, gen­er­ated a flurry of in­ter­est af­ter it was used to de­scribe the con­di­tion of Michael Jack­son’s body af­ter the en­ter­tainer’s death in June. It was the most looked-up word of the mid-year pe­riod, Sokolowski said.

Only one of the year’s top words had no clear peg to cur­rent events. It was “nu­ga­tory”, an ad­jec­tive mean­ing “of lit­tle or no con­se­quence”. Sokolowski said that while it was a favourite word of his, he re­mains puz­zled as to why it cre­ated a buzz of sud­den dic­tio­nary in­ter­est. – Sapa-AP

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