"Obamanation," "bailout" and "change."
Defining moment: Getting the last word on '08
How's the economy lately?
Ozay. That would be comedian Sarah Silverman's attempt to create this year's catchword, her somewhat lame - that's what it means, somewhat lame - answer to the brilliance of Stephen Colbert's truthiness.
Truthiness, which no longer needs defining, took the word world by storm and was voted word of the year in 2005 by the American Dialect Society.
The contenders for 2008, to be decided Jan. 9 at the society's meeting in San Francisco, come straight out of the calamitous economy and the historic election, the Palin-ized route to Obamanation.
The favorites, according to lexicographer Grant Barrett, chair of the society's new-words committee and editor of the Double-Tongued Dictionary, which specializes in "fringe English," are change and bailout. Bailout already has been chosen as Merriam-Webster's word of the year.
On the Palin side of things, we get maverick and its Tina Fey counterpart, mavericky; Caribou Barbie; lipstick on a pig; hockey mom; you betcha; vet and vetted; palling around; going rogue; and any number of Joe (Sixpack, -the-plumber, "Can I call you Joe" Biden) variations. Palin was a one-woman word girl, yes, she was. But not, as it turned out, the game changer John McCain needed.
From Obamaland, we get, first of all, Barack. As a result of Obama's use of the faux intimacy that is the currency of texting and other social networking (see oversharing), the whole world was on a first-name basis with the next president of the United States. Or sometimes on a middle-name basis. Hussein took on new significance as the problematic moniker that supporters deep into Obamamania adopted as their own.
Dialect society honcho Wayne Glowka, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt College in Waleska, Ga. (not to be confused with Wasilla), likes barackopolis, the word used to describe Obama's faux-Roman setting at the Democratic convention in Denver, as well as terrorist fist jab and bittergate, the controversy over Obama's description of some voters in rural Pennsylvania.
There was also likable enough, which Obama told Hillary Clinton she was during a debate. As in likable enough to shut up about it, not likable enough to be elected.
And let's not forget hope, and Obama's description of himself as a mutt.
Glowka has nominated all words fashioned from Obama. Take a deep breath; here's a partial list: Obamabonanza, Obamabot, Obamacare, Obamacide, Obamacized, Obamacrombie, Obamaesque, Obamaist, Obamaland, Obamamania, Obamamentum, Obamanation, Obamaniac, Obamanomics, Obamanaut, Obamanoxious, Obamarama, Obamaspeak, Obamathon and Obamessiah.
Glowka also likes thinko - a mental typo. Been there.
Onto the economy. Last year, in an unfortunate bit of prescience, the dialect society chose subprime as its word of the year. Bingo. Almost makes up for 2003's choice of metrosexual. Huh?
For this year, linguist Ben Zimmer, executive producer of visualthesaurus.com, nominates bailout, TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), and getting/taking a haircut, which dates to 1955 and means accepting a less-than-optimal financial return, as in the auto industry.
Glowka and Zimmer both cited toxic assets and recessionista, a person who remains stylish on a budget (also frugalista). That person might have taken a staycation this year. On a more hopeful note, we have shovel ready to indicate a project ready for stimulus funding. Readers of publicaddress.com chose credit crunch as word of the year.
On a related front, there was Bernard Madoff, whose last name may or may not replace Ponzi to describe an audaciously fraudulent scheme. Zimmer thinks it may find future life as a verb, as in, "he madoff with our money." Or possibly, as a noun. A madoff may now refer to a scheme in which the mastermind directly hurts members of his own ethnic group. A New York Times article about Jews feeling betrayed quoted a rabbi about the shanda factor, using the Yiddish word for shame or disgrace.
From the word-a-day Twitter page of self-described dictionary evangelist Erin McKean (www.twitter.com/emckean), we get squitter (a play on squatter), someone who sets up a Twitter account to hold a good name, and a vote for the mashup word chillax.
All things Twitter and tweets were very 2008. From Twitterland, Barrett likes fail as a noun, a usage common online (it's a fail), and its counterpart, FTW, for the win.
Former Apple marketer Guy Kawasaki, who with 38,632 followers is among the Twittering elite, coined the acronym UFM, pronounced UFF-um. He explains: "I did it because I was tired of people complaining that they didn't like my tweets. Unlike most other forms of digital communication, 'following' a person on Twitter is opt-in. You should just UFM - that is, 'un-follow me.' "
Glowka also likes bread crumbs, "the digital record of where you (and perhaps Gretel) have been in cyberspace." From the world of hip-hop, it was all about swagger or swagga, which showed up in songs by M.I.A., T.I. and others. And if you didn't know what this was before, you do now: the ubiquitous, robotic Auto-Tune.
Indiana Jones, who hid in an icebox to survive an atomic blast, gave us nuking the fridge, a play on jumping the shark - a plot line so preposterous you know the franchise has run out of gas.
From Philly, this was the year of bleeping and bleep. Think Chase Utley - "world [bleeping] champions!" - and Vince Fumo (too many examples to cite), who also brought us OPM: other people's money. From the Phillies, we got spam sushi, a Hawaiian delicacy also known as spam musubi and favored by Shane Victorino and, it turns out, Barack.
The baseball season also produced the instant Philly fan classic why can't us, uttered on the radio by Dan from Delaware, mercifully rendered moot by two words that at least for a generation, need no explaining: Game Five.
("It's like Game Five" - something that takes forever and is filled with outrage and bad weather, but works out in the end. Phinally.)
Meanwhile, ozay is still struggling for preeminence within its own show, where another word caught fire: dotnose, as in something obvious to everyone but the person it involves, as in you have a dot on your nose and everyone knows it but you. No, really.
Want a Say?
The public can send nominations for word of the year to woty@ americandialect.org.