Nominees for 2011 Word of the Year

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The American Dialect Society (meeting in Portland in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America) has selected nominees in the various categories for the 2011 Word of the Year. You can check out the full list here (PDF) or here (HTML).

[Update: The winner of the ADS Word of the Year is occupy. The press release, with the winners in the different categories, is here (PDF). My own wrap-up is here (with video), and Geoff Pullum's is here.]

As chair of the ADS New Words Committee, I had the privilege of presiding over the (always lively) nominating session. Those who followed the back-and-forth here on whether or not phrases should be considered for Word of the Year (Geoff Pullum says no; I say yes) will be pleased to know that the debate continued in person, though I don't get the feeling that Geoff won many converts to his point of view. He did, however, make a strong case for his favorite word of the year, assholocracy.

The final votes in all categories will take place tonight (Friday) at 5:30 pm PT in Salon I/II/III at the Executive Tower of Hilton Portland (catty-corner to the main hotel building where most of the LSA action is taking place). LSA attendees (and interested members of the public who happen to be in Portland) are welcome to attend and participate. Those who are unable to attend can follow the action via Twitter at @americandialect (using the #woty11 hashtag), though spotty wi-fi reception in the conference room may hamper the live-tweeting.


  1. Dw said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

    Why is "planking" in the "most unnecessary" category?

    One might argue that the activity it denotes is unnecessary, but given that the activity exists what other word better describes it?

  2. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

    Can anyone explain what the point of picking a "Word of the Year" is, other than generating a self-perpetuating cycle of media commentary?

  3. Paul O said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

    It seems like a more significant activity than commenting on an article about the same.

  4. Andy Averill said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

    I'd disqualify tablet for a start. Shouldn't the WOTY be a new word, or at least an old word used in a new way? Tablet computers have been around since at least 2001.

  5. mollymooly said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

    I like "artisanal"; it's the standard word in France for food that is not mass-produced. In Ireland this is called "home made", which is often a literal misnomer since even small operators seldom live over the shop. "Home-made–identical" or "hand made" are better/worse equivalents.

    Per Dw, maybe "planking" ought to have been in "least likely to succeed" rather than "most unnecessary". Though it shouldn't win that either: it already has a Wikipedia page, which mentions Tebowing as a variant, and "Gronking" as a variant of Tebowing.

  6. Jon Weinberg said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

    It's a little hard to believe that linguists had anything to do with these lists. Let's take the "most unnecessary" category as exemplary. The three nominees are "planking", which as Dw points out, seems indispensable for describing the activity it describes; "bi-winning", which succinctly conveyed Sheen's sentiment that he had transcended mere DSM categories; and "amazeballs", which seems like a wholly unexceptional example of slang affixation. So what does this list even mean?

  7. Jon Lennox said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

    I feel sorry for the the ADS when 4chan discovers that "brony" was listed under "least likely to succeed".

  8. Ralph Hickok said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

    I never before saw or heard "assholocracy."

  9. Rod Johnson said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 5:13 pm

    As much as I hate "job creator" as a piece of propaganda, it's tendentious to say it means "a member of the top one-percent of moneymakers." It means job creator. There are non-job creators in the 1% (god knows) and job creators in the 99%. The right intends it as a euphemism* for "rich people," and maybe someone on the left uses it satirically for one percenters, but neither usage is really what the phrase "means."

    *For want of a better term for "term used for political obfuscation."

  10. Rod Johnson said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

    "Brony" really goes against the grain of English word formation. Though I've see similar head-first portmanteaus before, I can't think of any that have lasted. "Ponybro" seems like the native, though less cute, way to say this.

  11. Josh Treleaven said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

    Although I'd prefer the word of the year to be *a* word, my pick from the nominations would be "job creator". It is euphemistic in a tug-of-war kind of way, people wanting to give it opposite definitions, both of which ignore a plain reading of the phrase. To me, that's more interesting, more full of ideas, than any of the other words. It can start a conversation/argument.

  12. ADL said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

    I believe Rod Johnson is unfamiliar with the specific rules pertaining to the formation of portmanbreaux, which usually (as far as I can tell) attach "br" where there is a stressed [o]. These are very often head-first. See "broseph," "broings-on," etc.

  13. Peter said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 10:03 pm

    @Andy Averill, re:

    Shouldn't the WOTY be a new word, or at least an old word used in a new way? Tablet computers have been around since at least 2001.

    Asking for a completely new usage would be a pretty high bar — most interesting usages have been around in some subculture or another for a while before they become notorious enough for WOTY. “Newly popular” or “newly widespread” seems like the more salient criterion. Or course, it’s still debatable whether tablet satisfies this.

  14. Viseguy said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

    Is it just me, or is the list of nominees lackluster this year? To take just the "most likely to succeed": "Arab spring" is topical but derivative (if you're old enough to remember the Prague spring); "cloud" sounds so last-year (to me); and "tiger mom/mother" is a phrase no one will remember a couple of years from now. I can't get excited about any of the others, either.

  15. Viseguy said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 10:47 pm

    Um, by "last-year" I meant 2010. :)

  16. Rod Johnson said,

    January 6, 2012 @ 10:51 pm

    @ADL: I bow to your superior knowledge. :)

  17. Faldone said,

    January 7, 2012 @ 5:55 am

    You don't have to limit yourself to portmanbreaux. Smog comes immediately to mind.

  18. Peter Taylor said,

    January 7, 2012 @ 10:16 am

    I'm not sure what conclusion to draw from the fact that the "Most likely to succeed" and "Occupy words" categories are the only ones where I'd even heard of more than 50% of the nominees.

  19. Rod Johnson said,

    January 7, 2012 @ 11:38 am

    Smog is headless (or two-headed), though. To me brony suggests "ponies who are bros," not "bros who like (My Little) Pony."

    All that is totally made up, though it would be interesting to look at portmanteaus more generally to see if they generally have a discernible remnant of phrasal structure or whether they're primarily driven by phonology.

  20. Janice Byer said,

    January 7, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

    'Planking' might've been categorized as 'unnecessary' not because the activity is – to be sure, 'occupying' is no less an optional act – but because the figurative use of such a lumbersome word, the stunt could do better without. Or, so I surmise the judges judged.

  21. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 7, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

    As far as I can tell, Broseph seems to be an exuberant (as John Ciardi used to put it) extension of bro by analogy with Joseph and Joe. I don't see a head. Broings-on seems to be rare and to have several meanings, but "bro goings-on" seems to translate them. So I agree with Rod Johnson in finding brony odd. Not that anyone checked with me.

    It did win "least likely to succeed". Perhaps someone more adept at finding things at 4chan will tell us whether there are repercussions.

  22. Greg D said,

    January 8, 2012 @ 3:41 am

    I'm pretty sure "pony" is the head of "brony". In the My Little Pony universe, the characters say things like "everypony" and "anypony" and "nopony" instead of the standard English equivalents, and bronies (such as myself) when speaking with each other about the show will often do the same thing. On various blogs and podcasts dedicated to the fandom, the audience will often be addressed something like "all the ponies out there reading/listening".

    "Brony" means "pony who is a bro"–and that, as well as I understand it, is actually what bronies mean to say when they use it.

  23. Rod Johnson said,

    January 8, 2012 @ 10:30 am

    Fascinating, Greg, thanks.

  24. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 8, 2012 @ 10:31 am

    Okay, if My Little Pony fans are called "ponies", I have no trouble with "brony" (if you care). I actually looked for that briefly, but couldn't find anything about it.

    I meant to say I like "portmanbreaux", by the way.

  25. ulyssesmsu said,

    January 8, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

    If they had chosen "assholocracy" instead of "occupy" as its word of the year, the ADS would not have qualified itself to be described by Prof. Pullum's favorite word.

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