Words and the world collide
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