11/12 – Word of the Year

November, 2012 – Volume 1, Number 3


By Bill Uricchio, University of Connecticut Libraries

Like many librarians, I have great admiration for the Oxford English Dictionary.  My admiration is primarily for its scope and the historical roots of its contents, but also for the somewhat goofy characters who set out to make it happen in the first place.

Although I own one of the two-volume complete sets, replete with miniscule font and magnifying glass, and a more heavily used “shorter” version, I have never thought much about the OED’s parent organization.  So, I was recently surprised to discover that they have for a number of annums selected a “Word of the Year”.

Recent “winners” include unfriend (via Facebook, 2009), refudiate ( Sarah Palin’s blending of refuse and repudiate, 2010), squeezed middle (a phrase “word” which defines the current state  of the middle class , 2011), and this  year’s omnishambles  (describing something  which has become thoroughly messed  up from a variety of maladies).  The choices apparently have to be somewhat odd, have a clear definition, and not already be in the OED.  In fact, the reward for being chosen seems to be inclusion in the next update of that august publication.

I suppose one could have some fun with these elite words, trying, for example, to put them all in a single sentence:  “Veronica’s life was an omnishambles following the refudiation of her Facebook account by Sir Reginald who unfriended her without warning”.  I have to admit this sounds a little too much like a losing entry in the annual Bulwer-Lytton competition for rotten prose.  Perhaps a specialized OED Word of the Year edition of Scrabble would be a winner, provided Aunt Maudie didn’t insist that adding an r to the end of refudiate would result in the name of the device which cools piston engines.

A more interesting pastime might be joining with colleagues to come up with candidates for the next Word of the Year.  Recent words look to belong to a lexicon which features odd blendings of standard language, hence Governor Palin’s effort, trendy shorthand as for unfriend, or words of creative combinations such as omnishambles which, said three times fast, could make one ombibulous.

I suppose a real hat trick might be coming up with a single word which meets all three criteria – a twisted, trendy combination.  Could ballot machines for the election just concluded be termed obamneytrons,  a really bad movie called an eyesaster, or putinescas for pasta dishes enjoyed by the leader of Russia ?

As librarians we might bend our own lingo to achieve the Word of the Year.  How about referencial for library staff who like working at an “I-Desk”?  Technology savvy colleagues might be called bytezembits,  and too-frequent library reorganizations omnishambles.  Wait – I’ve heard that last one somewhere before haven’t I?


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