Wednesday, 12 December 2007

It's the end of the year and we know it....

As happens at this time of year, people begin to create lists which are supposed in some way to sum up the year that's passed. One such list is that created by Merriam-Websters' dictionary in the US, which is roughly equivalent in standing as the OED is here. Their top ten words of the year, as voted for by visitors to their website (a completely useless grading criteria - I mean, who visits dictionary websites? oh, yeah, me) are:
1. w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay"
w00t! I won the contest!

This comes from 'l33t' speak. ('l33t' is short for 'elite' and is an annoying online game-player language used to exclude people who don't understand it. It's a form of e-language, supposedly quicker, whose features include the replacement of 'e' with '3' and 'o' with '0' (that second one's a zero in case you can't tell from my font). W00t is also an acronym (what a feast for language change enthusiasts) standing for 'we owed the other team' - see the l33t roots?

2. facebook (verb)

As in 'I facebooked her'. It can mean, variously, looking someone up on facebook, messaging them through facebook, etc etc etc. If you don't know what facebook is, you're sooo 2006 ;)

A tribute to the rise of the social networking site - so language change because a new phenomenon requires a new name, with facebook itself being a new compound of... face and book. Starting off as a noun, it has rapidly moved word classes to become a verb - another common mode of language change - can you think of any others?

3. conundrum (noun)

There doesn't seem to be a particular reason why this is a word of the year - I think it's just been someone's favourite word. According to Merriam-Webster, the word has been around since 1645. It can merely be a difficult problem, or a question whose answer is purely conjectural, or a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun. Countdown conundrum anyone?

4. quixotic (adjective)

Again this has been around for a while. It comes from the name of the eponymous character Don Quixote (pronounced Key-oh-tay but the adjective is pronounced as it appears), and describes people who are like the hero from this 1718 novel. It suggests one who is foolish and impractical in the pursuit of romantic ideals, or likes to behave like a knight of the round table. Here's another good way words are brought into the language - via eponyms. I bet you know at least two more, though these are nouns. One you'll have in your cupboard at home and use to clean the floor, and another you'll have in your pencil case.... yes, that's right, give it up for Messrs Hoover and Biro. Interestingly I heard a discussion on the radio the other day about the use of names as brands. The ideal is to get to the point where everyone identifies the name and brand, but not so far that they become everyday words for the genre of object, because at that point you lose your trademark.

5. blamestorm (verb/ noun)

This is not totally new, but it's fairly recent and will be familiar to anyone who has looked at 'management speak' in Language and Occupation. The definitions given by Merriam-Webster are:
(verb) : Gathering around in a group to discuss why a deadline was missed or a project failed and who is to blame or responsible.
All the managers were locked up in a meeting for the all day blamestorming about the lost contract.

(noun) : A meeting held in order to come up with a name of a person to assign guilt to a certain incident.
The board of directors where exhausted after a four hour blamestorm which finally resulted in two names for the chopping block.
It's obviously formed on analogy from the now-considered-politically-incorrect 'brainstorm' and has the advantage of internal rhyme with the base word. It's a piece of jargon which is becoming more widespread, from the ever-growing middle management/ business type environment.

6. sardoodledom (noun)

This was an entirely new one on me so I offer you Merriam-Webster's entry in its entirety. Goodness knows why this was a word of the year, but I quite like it's alliterativeness and it illustrates another method of lexical change.

Main Entry: sar·doo·dle·dom
Pronunciation: sär-ˈdü-dəl-dəm
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): sar·doo·dle·doms
Etymology: sardoodle- (blend of Victorien Sardou died 1908 French playwright criticized by G. B. Shaw died 1950 English playwright for the supposed staginess of his plays and English doodle) + -dom

: mechanically contrived plot structure and stereotyped or unrealistic characterization in drama Sardoodledom -- John Mason Brown>

7. apathetic (verb)

Again an old one here, from 1744, meaning having little or no interest or emotion. It's typically used of students about politics. Interestingly, if you look at its formation which is the prefix a-. meaning 'not' or 'no' with 'pathetic', it throws some light on the way in which 'pathetic' comes to mean what it does.

8. Pecksniffian

Similarly to quixotic, this is based on the name of a character in a novel - in this case Seth Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. It means 'unctuously hypocritical' - doesn't sound very nice. The kind of word you could use when you don't want someone to know you're insulting them.

9. hypocrite

You know who you are.

10. charlatan

This is someone who pretends to have knowledge or ability which they do not, usually conning people in the process. Interestingly the etymology of this is the Italian ciarlatano, alteration of cerretano, literally, inhabitant of Cerreto, from Cerreto, dated 1618. I'd really like to know what they did to annoy their neighbours!!

So, a list, and lots of ways that language can change, or form, or be used in different ways. Keep an eye out for the OED's list - their annual 'language report' by Susie Dent is usually worth a read and quite funny.


Hiphop said...

your interpretation and defintion of leet speak is completly inaccurate .. it did not arise from gamers, more so, it was adopted by gamers .. a simple search on wikkipedia will give you a better understanding of leet speak than your inaccurate description.

Hiphop said...

actualy your definition of WOOT is also inaccurate .. it stemmed from both D&D and as a term used by hackers for root administartion .. i also object to your statement "annoying online game-player language" .. perhaps you could point me to modern languages and terms which arent used to make the users of those terms "elite", is not "business speak" also a form of elitism?