Ottawa Citizen

Ermahgerd! Here are the top words of 2012

Amer­i­can Di­alect So­ci­ety will de­cide Jan. 4 on its se­lec­tion for Word of the Year

- MISTY HAR­RIS

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.”

 ?? CHARLES DHARAPAK/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ?? ‘Eastwoodin­g’ has en­tered the vo­cab­u­lary as a pop­u­lar meme in which peo­ple ad­dress empty chairs, as Clint East­wood did at this year’s Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion.
CHARLES DHARAPAK/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ‘Eastwoodin­g’ has en­tered the vo­cab­u­lary as a pop­u­lar meme in which peo­ple ad­dress empty chairs, as Clint East­wood did at this year’s Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion.

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