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This weird term was the word of the year 2007 from the dictionary maker Merriam-Webster. It presented a list of 20 words on its Web site that had been the subject of a large number of searches during the past year and asked visitors to vote. W00t came out top.

W00t is spelled with a couple of zeroes in the middle but it’s said as “woot”. It’s a small cry of joy, perhaps after completing a task, after besting an opponent, or for no reason at all. Merriam-Webster says, “It became popular in online gaming as part of what is known as l33t (‘leet’, or ‘elite’) speak, an esoteric computer hacker language in which numbers and symbols are put together to look like letters.”

Its origins are disputed. Some say it’s a blend from the cry Wow! Loot!, one that might be uttered when a Dungeons & Dragons player came across treasure; Merriam-Webster notes that it has been said to be an acronym for we owned the other team (meaning that our team bested them utterly); others argue that it derives from the Scots hoot!, which really is a bit of a hoot, since the Oxford English Dictionary describes that as an “ejaculation expressing dissatisfaction with, or impatient and somewhat contemptuous dismissal of, a statement or notion”, which hardly fits the context.

Grant Barrett, who runs the Double-Tongued Dictionary site, is sure these are all folk etymologies. He says that woot was most likely derived from and popularised by the US dance catchphrase of 1993, whoot, there it is! “In clubs and on dance floors across the country, in half-time shows and in baseball stadiums, ‘whoot, there it is’ and plain ‘woot!’ were shouted long and loud by millions. It was used by hype men at hip-hop shows, dancers and cheerleaders at ball games, DJs at discos, and probably by ball-callers at bingos.”

But what of its future? Allan Metcalf, executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, was quoted in an Associated Press story as being rather less than w00tish about it. “It’s amusing, but it’s limited to a small community and unlikely to spread and unlikely to last”.

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Page created 29 Dec 2007