Take a bow, Al: ‘Carbon neutral’ called hottest new word of 2006
Just in time for holiday party chitchat, it’s the official 2006 Word of the Year, named on Nov. 13 by the New Oxford American Dictionary. The big winner is not one word, but two: “carbon neutral,” meaning a lifestylesensitivetoclimatedamage.
The “carbon neutral” among us drive hybrid cars, use fluorescent lights,drytheirlaundryonaclothesline, invest in “green” businesses and applaud solar power. Former VicePresidentAlGoreworeoutthe term this year in public speeches, nottomentionhisdocumentary“An Inconvenient Truth.” He even deviseda“carboncalculator”forthose whowanttofigureoutwhethertheir fossil-fueled ways contribute to global warming.
“This is kind of the World Series for us,” said Erin McKean, editor in chiefofthe250,000-entrydictionary. “We look for words which are important lexically and culturally. We each keep a running list, then we sit down and argue.”
She led an editorial team that combed through news stories, blogs, technical journals and other sources to ferret out this year’s crop of words that best defined cultural moments.Carbonneutral—chosen as a prime example of “the greening of our culture and our language’ —willbeaddedtoanupdatescheduled for 2007.
“Occasionally,twoormorewords team up to be used as one, and they have their own grammatical requirements. You can’t say, for exam- ple, ‘carbon very neutral.’ You must say‘verycarbonneutral,’”Ms.McKean said, adding that one of the alsorans last year had three words — “persistent vegetative state.”
Meanwhile, runners-up for the top etymological honor include “CSA” (community-supported agriculture),“DRM”(digitalrightsmanagement),“dwarfplanet”(planetlike objectssuchasPluto),“elbowbump” (the handshake alternative for hypochondriacsand“recommended bytheWorldHealthOrganization”), and “fishapod,” a newly discovered fossil that has features of both fish and land mammals.
There’salso“pregaming,”orboozingbeforeattendingasportseventor party where alcohol is banned or in short supply. Last but not least, there’s “Islamofascism,” which the editorial team deemed “a controversial term” equating modern Islamic movements with European fascist movements of the early 20th century.
There is some competition out theretorecognizethebuzzwordsdu jour,though—awholedictionary,in fact.JohnWalston’snewlypublished “TheBuzzwordDictionary”demystifies1,000examplesofwhathecalls “pompous jargon.”
Among the newest offerings: “M&Ms,” or “entry-level employees freshoutofcollegewhofancythemselves ‘ management material,’ ” “SEP” (someone else’s problem), “job spill” (when work cuts into personaltime),“YOYO”(You’reonYour Own) and “flog” — a fake blog createdsolelyforpromotionalpurposes by unscrupulous promoters.
Speaking his language: Al Gore