What Would James Murray Think

Apart from Far Right efforts to legislate against the use of Spanish in American public life, it is not often that a linguistic topic becomes one of the top headlines of the day. But this month, one of the headlines read: “’Selfie’ Tops ‘Twerk’ as Oxford’s Word of the Year.”

The folks at Oxford collect about 150,000,000 words of English from written sources and the Internet each month and scan them for usage patterns. To earn the top spot, “selfie” increased in usage by 17,000% from 2011 to 2012.

Immediately, I imagined James Murray, the editor who oversaw the development of the Oxford English Dictionary, not just rolling over but actually spinning in his grave.

Besides “selfie” and “twerk,” here are the other words that made the “shortlist” (it seems that every list related to language and literature must now imitate the Booker Prize):

bedroom tax: opponents’ term for a change in British welfare policy

binge-watch: watching multiple television episodes in succession

bitcoin: a digital currency

olinguito: a South American mammal

schmeat: synthetic meat

showrooming: looking at items in stores and then buying them online

I personally collect neologisms, though in a much less formal way, and here are a few that I have collected over this past year:

aporkalypse: the short-lived but much-discussed projected shortage of bacon

artsperience: a word coined to describe the multi-media promotion of Lady Gaga’s new CD

biocide: the destruction of the natural environment

biodemocracy: the grassroots efforts to push back against corporatized destruction of the natural environment, specifically Montsanto’s marketing of engineered crops

blizzaster: a word necessitated by the media’s overuse of the word “blizzard” and the resulting decline in that word’s capacity to induce panic

boomerope: an invention that allows one to loop ropes over very high trees and building features

chillaxing: a leisurely state sought after when relaxation is not relaxed enough

conbrosations: conversations among very close male friends

corporatocracy: rule by corporations.

cosplay: dressing in the costumes worn by comic-book characters and other characters from popular works of fantasy

cute aggression: the need to lash out after watching the umpteenth video of insufferably cute puppies or kittens

faducation: the replacement of sound pedagogy with technological gimmicks

flopping: the new strategy of many of the firms that marketed mortgage-backed securities—buying up at discount prices the properties whose value they drove down and renting those properties until their market value rises enough to warrant selling them

fractivism: the grassroots activism against fracking

gastropub: a pub or bar that serves food of a much higher caliber than the typical “bar food”

geriaction movie: a film featuring action stars well past their prime

glamping: an alternative leisure activity for those who would really like to enjoy the outdoors but find the bugs and the temperature variations just too annoying

hood rat: a derogatory term for a former personal assistant perceived as disloyal, popularized by Lady Gaga after she was sued by a former personal assistant

hyperloop: Elon Musk’s conception of a “fifth mode” of transportation

knee-scan identification: a proposed alternative to the full-body scans now required at airport security checkpoints

mariculture: fish farming’s effort to sound like something more akin to indigenous fishermen

momisms: the warnings that almost all mothers can be depended on to give their children

monokini: a one-piece bikini (not to be confused with one half of a bikini)

ratchup: a Brazilian term for ketchup after a batch of Heinz imported from Mexico was found to contain an “excessive amount” of rat fur

SantaClausifying: the attempt to misappropriate the enduring popularity and to distort the legacy of a historical figure

seasteading: the movement to create floating offshore communities

sexsomnia: a novel defense against the charge of rape—that is, the crime was committed while sleepwalking

shomance: a romantic relationship between two actors or entertainers

solutionism: the belief that for every problem, there is a marketable solution, and the resulting proliferation of new problems in need of solutions

terracide, terrarists: the appropriation of the nomenclature of the War on Terror for the conflict between corporations and environmentalists

uberregulation: a Far Right’s none-too-subtle attempt to associate regulation with Nazism

upcycling: the transformation of junk into expensive products

workaround: a solution to a problem that doesn’t actually fix the problem but mitigates its effects

zorbing: the extreme sport of rolling down a mountainside inside a large ball or cylindrical container

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