Ermahgerd! Here are the top words of 2012
American Dialect Society will decide Jan. 4 on its selection for Word of the Year
For those who know fracking from Frankenstorm, Eastwooding from ermahgerd, the American Dialect Society’s annual vote for Word of the Year is serious business — as serious as something can be, anyway, when it’s likened by its creators to a linguistic goat rodeo.
Unlike last year’s winner, “occupy,” voters will enter deliberations on Jan. 4 with no clear front-runner. And that’s not because there were no star words in 2012, but rather because there were so many, a scenario that makes this year’s list of nominees the language equivalent of a Garry Marshall movie.
Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS’s new words committee, has personally shortlisted “Eastwooding” (a photo meme in which people address empty chairs, à la Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention); “fiscal cliff” (popularized by the U.S. Federal Reserve chairman); “Frankenstorm” ( the initial moniker for superstorm Sandy); and “hate-watching” (tuning in to a declining TV show to tear it apart).
Among Zimmer’s “sentimental favourites” is “mansplaining,” which caught fire in 2012 as a satirical descriptive for male politicians’ explanations of women’s issues.
“The whole idea of men feeling the need to explain things to women when they don’t really require explanation is definitely not new,” he says, laughing. “But the fact that this term emerged, and can be pegged as a sociological phenomenon, is great because everyone can identify with it.”
Lexicographer Grant Barrett, co-host of the public radio show A Way with Words, says the majority of 2012’s stickiest words were related to the American election. But two of his favourites were without strong political ties: “fracking” and “YOLO.”
“The reason fracking came to the surface — no pun intended — is that we’re starting to see health effects of this style of extracting petroleum, where there are now chemicals leaking into water supplies,” says Barrett. “It demonstrates that the Word of the Year doesn’t have to be brand new; it has to be newly important.”
As for YOLO, which was popularized by Canadian rapper Drake, Barrett likes it for similarly symbolic reasons.
“It stands in for this incredible source of new language, which is young people … They’re looking for identity, they’re looking for group cohesion, and part of this process is the language they create and share,” he says. “YOLO is a modern-day carpe diem. It’s past its prime now but it did its job.”
Canadian playwright and children’s scribe Marty Chan proposes three nominees for Word of the Year: “hatewatching,” “Ikea monkey” and “ermahgerd,” the latter of which was central to an online meme in which a young woman flaunted her Goosebumps novels.
“Ermahgerd (a lisped pronunciation of ‘oh my God’) proves that children’s writers inspire the coolest words,” says Chan, author of Barnabas Bigfoot: A Hairy Tangle.
This year’s nomination from Mark Peters, language columnist for Visual Thesaurus, is “gluten-free,” a word he describes as “not new, but it’s taking over the world.”