The Word of the Year: And the Winner Is ...

BlogHer Original Post

Every year for the past 20 years, the 121-year-old American Dialect Society has selected a word to commemorate. This year, we're celebrating "app."

App: n. informal, abbr. application, a software program for a computer or mobile device.

“App has been around for ages, but with millions of dollars of marketing muscle behind the slogan ‘There’s an app for that,’ plus the arrival of ‘app stores’ for a wide spectrum of operating systems for phones and computers, app really exploded in the last 12 months,” says Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society (ADS) and the “On Language” columnist for the New York Times Magazine.

The Word of the Year, it should be noted, is generally not reserved for words alone, but also includes phrases of particular relevance or notoriety. For example, Urban Dictionary's word of the year was “gate rape” (n. Passing through a security gate at an American airport, which requires either a full-body scan where T.S.A. guards ogle your naked body or an “enhanced” pat down where T.S.A. guards molest you.) "Gate rape" made it to the ADS's final list in the Most Unnecessary category (along with "terror baby" and "bed intruder").

Merriam Webster named “austerity” its word of the year, citing it as the most frequently searched definition in 2010 –- unsurprising, given the budget cuts and restricted spending due to the current economic climate.

Given this range of possibilities, why did the ADS select “app”?

“One of the most convincing arguments from the voting floor was from a woman who said that even her grandmother had heard of it,” Zimmer added.

Founded in 1889, the American Dialect Society is dedicated to the study of the English language in North America and its annual vote, now in its 21st year, is the longest-running vote anywhere not tied to commercial interests. The selected words are voted by members of the organization which include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, and researchers, among others.

The annual ceremony, done in good fun, is intended to highlight that changes in language are normal and ongoing.

Also-rans for Word of the Year 2010, from the ADS press release:

  • nom: Onomatopoetic form connoting eating, esp. pleasurably. Can be used as an interjection or noun to refer to delicious food.
  • junk: as used in "junk shot" (attempt to fix BP oil spill), "junk status" (Greece’s credit rating), "don’t touch my junk" (protest against TSA pat-down procedure).
  • Wikileaks: as proper noun, common noun, and verb.
  • trend: verb, to exhibit a burst of online buzz.

What would you vote for as word of the year?

AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

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