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Sayings without staying power

The words of '09: All tweeting and fleeting

MTV has given new meaning to the words "Jersey Shore": Now it's a place where buff, shallow young Italians, uh, go rogue.
MTV has given new meaning to the words "Jersey Shore": Now it's a place where buff, shallow young Italians, uh, go rogue.Read moreSCOTT GRIES / MTV

It was a year in which words and phrases showed up and got used up in record time. Catchphrases no longer catch on these days, but get bobbled around in everyone's hands for a nanosecond before dropping for an incomplete pass.

Like a December blizzard, or our hero Cliff Lee, nothing sticks around for long. I'mma let you finish, Kanye, but nobody cares anymore. As the signs at Citizens Bank Park read in the blink-and-it's-over Cliff Lee era, unbeLEEvable.

Remember the epic-at-the-time beer summit between President Obama, Skip Gates, and some cop? Bud Light, Red Stripe, and a Blue Moon, for posterity.

How about hiking the Appalachian trail? That phrase's journey from lame but imaginative alibi from South Carolina Adulterer-Governor Mark Sanford to "jocular political euphemism" is cited by Visual Thesaurus exec producer Ben Zimmer in his list of nominations for the always anticipated Word of the Year vote by the American Dialect Society, to be held Jan. 8 in Baltimore.

But will anyone get this reference in 2010?

Balloon Boy and Octomom, once so urgent and breaking, now pffft? Ah, then there was hopium, which Zimmer defines as a "blend of hope and opium, used to mock the excessive optimism of Obama supporters," with potential to supplant "drinking the Kool-Aid." Not too many suffering from that affliction these days. Maybe 2009 should be the year of The Hangover, a great movie and a pervasive feeling. How did we get to this painful point, and what is this Tiger doing in our hotel room?

The linguists will also tackle the word of the decade, with blog or google looking like favorites.

In a year where textual and sextual communication dominated, but in shorter and shorter bursts, Zimmer has also nominated the humble prefix "un," which, buoyed by the undoable nature of some - but clearly not all - electronic intercourse, has enjoyed distinction in a Facebook age of unfriending, unfollowing, and unfavoriting.

Un- has left de- behind in the race for most useful and used prefix, with the twitter-derived "tw" making itself felt, at least in the eyes of the twitterverse populated by tweople tweeting.

Zimmer was especially intrigued with words that might be verbs, like win or fail, or adjectives, like awesome, that get treated "as a sort of a substance," he said. "We are full of fail, full of awesome, full of win," he said. Something has earned "a bucket of fail, a box of fail."

Zimmer traces a big bag of no to the movie Juno. And last week, in an interview in the New York Times, music critic Chris Weingarten, completing a year of 1,000 Twitter record reviews, said: "I haven't figured out anything about it beyond how to get attention. Which in the Internet is the economy of awesome. And in reality means nothing."

The economy of awesome would probably be considered more robust than the actual economy, which is an epic fail these days.

In the growing category of Sesame Street-derived Internet viral nonsense words, 2009 brought us meep, an utterance from Beaker which so irated a Massachusetts school superintendent when students kept interjecting it that he banned it.

"Linguists love that one," says Nancy Friedman, who writes a word etc. blog called Fritinancy. "It's an invented word that immediately acquires meaning and controversy. And the controversy made it more meaningful."

Friedman notes another word from Sesame Street that enjoyed a yummy renaissance this year: nom, as in eat, in a Cookie Monster enthusiasm. Helpful in tweeting what you've made, and eaten, for dinner (which naturally in the braggy world of tweets and updates, is always yummy). Nom, nom, nom.

Friedman, whose day job is consulting with businesses over branding and naming, says her clients in 2009 were constantly wanting to socialize their plans, that is, circulate the plan, solicit reactions.

"In a year when socialism suddenly arose from the dead and became this horrible dirty word again, the idea that business people were using it in a neutral or positive way was very striking to me," she said. "There's a long history of resistance to the 'ize' kind of word."

Online, meanwhile, people were trying to figure out how to monetize Web sites (without much luck).

In the perilous days of 2009, newspapers became legacy media and Web sites sought to monetize their economy of awesome after finally accepting that being page view whores was not going to pay the rent. Novels were reduced in some parts of the world (Japan, mostly) to thumb novels, composed on and circulated by cell phone.

News aggregators found a new word to describe what they do: curate.

"They're not just ripping off other sources," Friedman said. "They are curating a collection. It's a way to add luster to a pretty ordinary job: selecting."

Words from the cacophony of political discourse this year include birther, somebody who questions whether Obama was born in the United States, modeled after truther, somebody who doubted the official accounts of 9/11, not to be confused with a flat-earther, or, cited by Zimmer, a warmist. Alternately: warm-mongerer.

In the "er" cases, language maven Leslie Savan wrote this year, the addition of the suffix -er "can turn a simple noun into a "handy partisan putdown."

The -ist suffix turns a person's scientific beliefs (in this case, in climate change resulting in global warming) into merely another political position subject to debunking (warmist). Those who question global warming might be described as having irrational disbelief syndrome, which Wayne Glowka, a dean at Reinhardt College, defines as the "jocular psychological condition of those who do not believe what other people believe without question."

Glowka also unearths You lie! from U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, another killer moment that was forgotten rather more quickly than at first suggested. Glowka also cites too big to fail and robust public option as phrases that took on urgency in 2009.

Friedman cites app and killer app as geek lingo becoming more widespread.

Nominating lists by Friedman, Grant Barrett, and others cited death panel, mancession, and tea party as other words from the political discourse, and Obama's unfortunate wee-weed up, which he used to describe the state of agitation in Washington during August.

David K. Barnhart, another dictionary maven, offers the cloud as a word catching currency this year, meaning the online and always available place where what's now on your hard drive will reside in the future. He also lists going rogue and optics meaning "visual impression," as in how were the optics during Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric, before she was described as going rogue.

The economy, affecting men more than women, produced cool new words to describe the agony: hecession and mancession.

Closer to home, MTV overnight turned the words Jersey Shore from an innocuous and loving geographic description of a goofy and occasionally transcendent vacation place to "Jersey Shore," a place where breathtakingly superficial but mega-toned-and-tanned Italian girls and boys - Guidos and Guidettes - with cool nicknames like The Situation and Snooki bust it all up for a good time. That is a bucket of awesome right there.

And that, folks, is how we J-Roll. Here's to a Happ-y Halladay in 2010.