In celebration of words

Last month the OUP announced its word of the year (WOTY) for 2010 – ‘big society’, which beat ‘double-dip’ and ‘vuvuzela’.

BBC News also recently produced a list of words used in politics during the past year. The list includes ‘bigotgate’, ‘brokeback coalition’ and ‘ginger rodent’.

Over in the US, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary announced the top ten words of 2010. Based on the number of searches online, the top three were: ‘austerity’, ‘pragmatic’ and ‘moratorium’.

In January the American Dialect Society will announce its own WOTY list for 2010. One of the judges, linguist Ben Zimmer, has highlighted ‘junk’, shellacking’ and ‘hactivism’ as possible contenders. If you’re interested, you can listen to him discussing his choices on National Public Radio here.

I learned today on the Virtual Linguist blog that the top three buzz words used in China this year were: ‘awesome’, ‘fake divorce’ and ‘ant tribe’.

And in Belgium, it seems the word that topped the list for 2010 (at least in Flemish, the type of Dutch spoken in Belgium) was ‘tentsletje’, or ‘tent slut’, which The Daily Telegraph helpfully translates as “…a woman who has multiple sexual partners at a music festival…”

These WOTY lists are fun and comprise a sort of potted cultural and political history for a particular year.

Using words should be fun, yet too often (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone) we can get pulled out of shape when we perceive words being used ‘incorrectly’.

As 2010 draws to a close, here’s an inspiring reminder from – who else? – Stephen Fry about why we should try to enjoy and celebrate our language more and be less uptight about it usage. Words by the man himself,  kinetic typography animation by Matt Rogers. Enjoy – and a Happy New Year!

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