2012 Words of the Year

It’s New Year’s Eve, a time for making reflections, resolutions, hot midnight smooches—and a pretty vicious New Year’s Day hangover. But for word nerds, it’s also a time to discuss the words of the year.

2011’s selections reflected upheaval. There was occupy, pragmatic, and Dictionary.com’s odd choice of tergiversate. 2012’s top words are more diverse. Let’s give them a look.

apocalypse
This is Global Language Monitor’s selection for 2012. Paul JJ Payack, president of Global Language Monitor, noted, “Apocalypse  (Armageddon, and similar terms) reflects a growing fascination with various ‘end-of-the-world’ scenarios, or at least the end of life as we know it.  This year the Mayan Apocalypse was well noted, but some eight of the top words and phrases were directly related to a sense of impending doom.”

The organization’s other top words were: deficit, Olympiad, meme, and Frankenstorm.

bluster
Dictionary.com selected bluster this year. Why bluster? As they explain on their Hot Word blog: “In Old English bluster meant ‘to wander or stray,’ and today it has a few, closely related meanings. It means both ‘to roar and be tumultuous, as wind’ and ‘noisy, empty threats or protests; inflated talk.’ 2012 was full of bluster from the skies and from the mouths of pundits. As the U.S. Congress faces the looming fiscal cliff, we can only anticipate more bluster from politicians. Hopefully, the bluster will only come from them, not from more nor’easters and early winter storms.”

capitalism & socialism
These two words share the top spot for Merriam-Webster’s words of the year, thanks to the presidential election and debates. Confusion arose as to how the terms are defined.

capitalism: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

socialism: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

Also on Merriam-Webster’s list were: meme, schadenfreude, and malarkey.

GIF
Oxford American Dictionaries chose this as its word of the year. GIF is a computer file format that creates looped animations, such as this: Captain Picard GIF

GIF turned 25 this year, but it has never been more popular. As Katherine Martin, head of the U.S. Dictionaries Program for Oxford University Press, explained, “GIF celebrated a lexical milestone in 2012, gaining traction as a verb, not just a noun. The GIF has evolved from a medium for pop-cultural memes into a tool with serious applications including research and journalism, and its lexical identity is transforming to keep pace.”

Fun fact: Most people pronounce GIF with a hard G, as in good. However, some in the computer world insist this is a mispronunciation, claiming it should be pronounced with a J sound, as in jam. Of course, there’s a website about the debate.

2012 year in slang
Gangnam Style
Heard of this thing called Gangnam Style? Okay, duh, you have. “Gangnam Style” is the mega hit by South Korean rapper Psy. It is the first video in history to reach one billion online views.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the famous video:

YOLO
YOLO is short for You Only Live Once. It’s a popular hashtag on twitter and was memorialized in rapper Drake’s song “The Motto.”

Example: Thinking about drinking a pitcher of that mystery punch—well, YOLO.

swag
Swag is short for swagger and means being or having something cool. It gained popularity from Justin Beiber’s song “Boyfriend.”

Example: I got so much free stuff because I’m super famous. Swag!

cray/cray-cray
Cray is short for crazy. It was popularized in Jay-Z’s song “Niggas in Paris.”

Example: You’re going out with that guy again? Girl, that’s cray.

What are your favorite and least favorite words of the year? Share with us in the comments section.

What decimate really means

If you are reading this from your underground doomsday bunker, I thank you for taking the time from your end-of-the-world preparations to read my humble blog. Yes, today is the day some people decided the ancient Mayans predicted would be the end of the world. So, in the spirit of all things apocalyptic, I thought we should talk about epic disasters—more specifically, the word decimate.

What do you think when you hear the word decimate? Bridge-swallowing earthquakes? Nuclear wastelands? Robot overlords?

Decimate has come to mean near-total destruction, but that’s not the technical definition of the word. Decimate comes from the Latin word decem, which means ten. Thus, decimate means to reduce something by a tenth. Merriam-Webster lists the first definition of decimate as: “to select by lot and kill every tenth man of.”

Destroying a tenth of something is still some serious carnage, but I doubt it matches the type of destruction most people now identify with the word. However, that’s okay. The meaning has changed over time, where it now can mean anything from a storm knocking down every tenth tree to robot overlords exterminating all of humankind.

And just in case this is my last post, I’ll leave you with this—an introduction to your new leaders. Good luck in the apocalypse, suckers.