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Words to the wise: Summing up 2010

How about, simply, Philadelphia? Yes, as 2010 winds down and the nation's word-meisters cast about for their Word of the Year (#woty10 in Twitter), it sure seems that our fine city has ascended to a dominance not seen in centuries. New Yorkers themselves were declaring the whole New York thing over. How better to sum up 2010 in one word?

The vuvuzela, a plastic trumpet favored by South African World Cup fans, spawned another term - Vuvu-stoppers.
The vuvuzela, a plastic trumpet favored by South African World Cup fans, spawned another term - Vuvu-stoppers.Read moreSHUJI KAJIYAMA / Associated Press

How about, simply,



Yes, as 2010 winds down and the nation's word-meisters cast about for their Word of the Year (#woty10 in Twitter), it sure seems that our fine city has ascended to a dominance not seen in centuries. New Yorkers themselves were declaring the whole New York thing over. How better to sum up 2010 in one word?

Merry Cliffmas! R2C2! Phour Loko! The Crumble! Everything ph-ified, pH-balanced. So much for the Empire State of Mind.

Perhaps, though, in this, Year VII of Our Facebook, the true word of the year can only be: all of the words.

Now that Google has released its books Ngram Viewer, which tracks words and phrases over time in its books database, more than 500 billion words are at your constant algorithmic disposal.

Who needs to pick a favorite, parochial or not?

Using the Ngram search of words and phrases in books to track our civic brilliance is phruitful. Philadelphia as a word peaked like crazy in the 1940s, dipped to a low in 1990, showed a nice rise in 1998, and continued to run strong through 2008, which is where the chart stops.

Meanwhile, Facebook itself was busy analyzing all of its billions of words.

Facebook data guru Lars Backstrom recently released Facebook's "memology" list, which tracked the fastest-growing words and phrases in 2010 status updates.

Backstrom announced that the semi-obscure (to anyone not currently stalking their kid on Facebook) HMU was Facebook's winner. Notably, this does not appear on any of the more-established lists from the linguists of the American Dialect Society, which will meet Jan. 7 to declare its word of the year.

HMU, or more popularly hmu, stands for "hit me up." Or "hey, I'm around, ready to play COD, ready to IM, ready to chat, ready to actually do something, so contact me in whatever fashion the kids are doing it these days." Oovoo anyone? Formspring?

A second generation to lol and ttyl, hmu is a close cousin to hbu, which means, "how 'bout you?" "In early 2009, the acronym HMU was virtually unheard of," Backstrom wrote on the Facebook blog. "By the end of the summer of 2010, however, this reached 80,000 mentions a day."

Hit them up already, people. Also making the Facebook list were the mineros or Chilean miners, Bieber, Haiti, and, in the digital echo chamber, iPad and iPhone 4.

Naturally, every 13-year-old and her mother were also running a Facebook app crunching their status-update words for the top 10. Among mine were Cliff (as in Lee, not jumping over one) and the poignant yet ponderously succinct hmm. Hmm.

At least one 13-year-old's top algorized Facebook status word came up as yourr, the extra-lettered and misspelled "you're" teens so like. Sadly, the fuddy-duddy you're seems near online extinction.

As for the extra-letter craze, a Facebook page called writingggggg worrrddss wiiithhh unnneeeccccesssaaarryyy eexxtra lettterrsss, created this year, quickly attracted more than 500,000 "likes" from Jersey to China. That's a lot of people with unnecessary extra time.

Despite the rampant word-crunching, experts still weighed in from the American Dialect Society, which selected tweet last year. (Which, in 2010's most retweeted post, Stephen Colbert said should be changed to gurgle, in deference to oil-soaked birds.)

"It's exciting to have the ability to look through all of the textual output that young people are creating, to get a better handle on things," said WOTY nominator Ben Zimmer, author of the online Visual Thesaurus and the On Language column for the New York Times Magazine. "But you need the human to tell you what's significant."

Zimmer said that looking at the year's defining words once again yielded a bleak economic portrait (99er referring to the long-term unemployed; double-dip, as in persistent recession; motor-homeless, a person who is homeless except for an RV, a word on the list of Reinhardt University's Wayne Glowka). Another fun new word was robo-signing, the process by which your foreclosure gets approved without anyone's reviewing the documents. QE2 in 2010 was not a cruise (who could afford one) but shorthand for the second bout of Federal Reserve "quantitative easing." There were appraisal mill, a mortgage "puppy mill," and Great Recession. The definition most often sought on Merriam-Webster's website: austerity. Bleak.

The political landscape yielded positive-spin euphemisms (constituent services, or less-than-ethical favoritism by elected officials) and fearmongering dysphemisms (Victory Mosque near ground zero). But it was Sarah Palin who coined the keepers: mama grizzly, which lexicographer Grant Barrett defines as "the conservative woman's battle cry," and refudiate, New Oxford American Dictionary's word of the year, a mix of refute and repudiate. (Glowka defines it "repudiate, ya know.") Lexik House's David Barnhart nominated Palinism in honor of her efforts.

President Obama contributed a few memorable words, notably shellacking, to describe what happened to Democrats in the midterm election, and Slurpee, the 7-Eleven concoction he said Republicans were slurping instead of getting work done. This led to the Slurpee summit when he met with Republicans in the White House. His presidency was tagged as neocortical, run by rule of reason or intellect. A busy D.C. month left legislators upbeat, but the term lame duck in crisis.

Man up, used by Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle with rival Sen. Harry Reid, also showed up advertising an energy drink. Obama, taking a more neutral tack, told Democrats to buck up before the midterm election. The better to get shellacked. (Locals may note that Gov. Christie scored early in the man-up race, telling Don Imus in late 2009 that Jon Corzine should just "man up and say I'm fat.")

Obama has been a little light on quotables. "It's much easier to come up with memorable lines from [Christine] O'Donnell or Palin," Zimmer said. And so, we are left with "I am not a witch."

The airport-screening controversy yielded up junk (as in "don't touch my") to the euphemistic enhanced pat down and overstated gate rape.

The BP oil spill gushed lots of words, noted dialect-monitors like Nancy Friedman, coalescing around spill, but offering static kill, top kill, cold seep, blowout preventer, and spillcam, Global Language Monitor's 2010 WOTY. Glowka nominated spillion, "an immeasurably large number."

The digital era gave us blogerati, cybertraitor, distracted driving, e-reader, microblogging, and, like an old-fashioned home-cooked meal, slow media, the good old print media.

Global sports produced a popular word but unpopular sound: the vuvuzela, droning plastic trumpets favored by South African World Cup fans, a ubiquitous wordless soundtrack to 2010. Until people used Vuvu-stoppers.

Friedman cites cannabiz, a word to remember in New Jersey's coming medical-marijuana reality. She notes the German Youth Word of the Year: niveaulimbo or "limbo level," the "declining of television programs, and of conversation at parties."

"I'm charmed by the second-place winner, Arschfax," she added, "a visible label on one's underwear that hangs outside one's trousers."

Pop culture gave us an acronym to live by: GTL, the "gym, tan, laundry" lifestyle of Jersey Shore and a frequency: 1/f, a.k.a. pink noise, the not-quite white background noise wave in recent films.

Justin B. gave us Beliebers, who scream a lot when they see "the Justin Bieber," the long-banged hairstyle of their idol. mined hip-hop for the Dougie, as in teach me how to Dougie like Doug E. Fresh; Malibooyah, a Kanye West special combining Malibu rum and Grey Goose vodka, cuffin ("Boy you cuffin claim a dame from Big Boi), and the X, for the Bronx, from Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind. All X'ed out by year's end.

Glee gave us Gleeks, which Zimmer notes continues a transition of geek from negative term to one denoting passion for a particular subject.

In Philadelphia, though, we had our own special G-Lee. Which makes everyone here G-Lee-ks, and the rest of the country looking to man up.