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Words of 2003

Each year, the conference of the American Dialect Society elects those words and phrases of the preceding year that seem noteworthy. Whilst not exactly frivolous, the voting is lighthearted, as one may tell from the categories and some of the selections. Last night’s session in Boston was no exception.

For example, the Most Unnecessary Word of the year. Many of us could compile a list of possibilities here. The ADS members came up with freedom, replacing “French” in phrases or compound nouns such as French fries and French kiss. This easily beat Bennifer, a blended noun describing the couple of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. In the Most Outrageous category nominations included torture lite, torture short of bodily harm, and useful idiot, a human shield for the enemy. But the winner, a word which fits its category perfectly, was cliterati, a collective noun for feminist or woman-oriented writers or opinion-leaders.

The word voted Least Likely To Succeed, that is, the word or phrase least likely to be here next year, was tomacco, a hybrid of tomato and tobacco. Spider hole was voted Best Revival, a word or phrase brought back from the past (this, you may recall, was the American military term used in news reports for the hole in which Saddam Hussein was captured; it goes back at least to 1941). The word voted Most Likely to Succeed, that is, the word or phrase most likely to be here next year was SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. And the award for the word or phrase which least says what it means to was given to pre-emptive self-defense, an attack made before a possible attack.

The Most Creative award required several rounds of voting to get the mood of the meeting clear. Among those suggested were the several terms that have been devised to refer to the new governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, governator, gropenator, and gropenführer, variously referring to his part in the Terminator films, his origins, and the allegations of sexual harassment that have been made against him. But the winner here was a word that visitors to this site have recently heard about: freegan, a person, nominally vegan, who eats only what they can get for nothing. Still on food, the Most Useful category winner for a word or phrase which most fills a need for a new word was won by flexitarian, a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat.

And now (a drum roll, maestro, please) the Word (or Phrase) of the Year. This required three rounds of voting. But the final winner was metrosexual, a fashion-conscious heterosexual male, or, as Mark Simpson put it, a man who “has clearly taken himself as his own love object”.

What, then, of 2004? It is hardly likely to be dull. It is, after all, the UN International Year of Rice and — in the UK — will be featuring the Be Nice To Nettles Week (actually the ten-day period from 19-28 May).

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Page created 17 Jan 2004