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The Word of the Year
Media General News Service


December 31, 2006

WASHINGTON -- One of my favorite year-end rituals has nothing to do with champagne or fireworks, festive though they are.

For me, a year isn't over until the nation's linguists cap it with the Word of the Year.

The American Dialect Society chooses the words that make each year unique. Members will vote on the words of 2006 Friday, Jan. 5 in Anaheim, Calif. Ah, the suspense.

The people who study words don't, or can't, pick just one to capture a year. They have almost as many categories as the Academy Awards or a high school yearbook. Most Useful. Most Creative. Most Unnecessary. Most Outrageous. Most Euphemistic. Most Likely to Succeed and Least Likely to Succeed.

The 2005 word was "truthiness," defined as "what one wishes to be the truth regardless of the facts." Stephen Colbert of the "Colbert Report" on Comedy Central coined it.

Most Useful was "podcast." Most Creative was "whale-tail, the appearance of thong or g-string underwear above the waistband." Most Likely to Succeed: "sudoku," the Japanese puzzle.

The Word of the Year is fun and instructive. In 2004, "red/blue/purple states" won, demonstrating that the word can be, as the linguists say, a "vocabulary item."

I called three of the society's principals to get the early line on the words for 2006.

"Language is just going on its merry way, creating many new words," said Wayne Glowka, who heads the society's New Words Committee. While he doesn't have a strong favorite, Glowka said, "It's time for men to win something."

"Mom," as in soccer mom, was the 1996 word. So, Glowka is suggesting the "m-, man-, men- compounds."

Glowka, who teaches at Georgia College and State University, explained that there has been a proliferation of words like "mancation," in which guys take a manly vacation together without wives or girlfriends; "murse," either a male nurse or a man-purse, and "menaissance." Time magazine proclaimed the "menaissance" in June, declaring, "The manly man is back."

"Mancation" and "menaissance" don't trip as lightly off the tongue as "mom," and Glowka doesn't expect the m-words to win.

He also likes "CrackBerry addict," someone unable to put down a BlackBerry device; "nicotini," a tobacco-flavored martini, and "Axis envy," North Korea's envy of attention given to Iran.

Glowka loves to watch TV talk shows in which the participants shout at each other, and he heard Mort Kondracke, editor of "Roll Call," use "Axis envy" on Fox News.

That network also spawned a term, noted by Grant Barrett, editor of the Double-Tongued Dictionary Web site, "Fox lips" he defines as "colored and lined with makeup to seem more prominent, said of female anchors on Fox News."

The military influence on language remains strong as troops and reporters bring back words from Iraq. On Barrett's list is "Johnny Jihad," a Muslim combatant. This dates back at least a decade, but it gained popularity with the invasion of Iraq, he said.

A "7,000-mile screwdriver" connotes micromanagement from afar and has been used to describe the difficulties managing the war in Iraq, he said.

Barrett also proposes "marble ceiling," which he calls a "sister term to 'glass ceiling.' " A marble ceiling prevents women from advancing in politics. Nancy Pelosi broke through it to become speaker of the House.

David K. Barnhart, editor of the "Barnhart Dictionary Companion" quarterly updates for dictionaries, likes "partial continuous attention," which describes the mental state of someone who's multitasking.

Also, "Rumsfeldian," which, while not new, blossomed in 2006 to describe a brusque and overconfident manner. "Boomeritis" describes the aches and pains of baby boomers.

"If I had to put money on it, I would think Word of the Year would have some political component because of the election year," Barnhart said.

So, I have a candidate. It's a word that changed the election and, arguably, control of the Senate.

Sen. George Allen, R-Va., called a campaign worker for his opponent, Jim Webb, "macaca," an unfamiliar word that we learned could be an ethnic slur. Allen lost his re-election bid, and Democrats regained the Senate. "Macaca." If it isn't the Word of the Year, it surely is Most Outrageous.


E-mail Marsha Mercer, Washington bureau chief for
Media General News Service, at mmercer(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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