Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Words of the Year 2010

Thank you to everyone who nominated words for this year's SbaCL Words of the Year.  I needed them more than ever this year, as I had few ideas or preferences of my own on this matter.  But thanks to my kind readers, we have some winners.


Let's start with the more competitive AmE-to-BrE category.  Here we've had some nice suggestions, and the hono(u)r nearly went to primary in the sense of 'preliminary election'. Reader-in-Ireland mollymooly had suggested this at the end of 2009, noting that the Conservative party had an open primary to choose a candidate for the House of Commons seat for Totnes. Perhaps it should have beaten staycation last year--but it came to my attention a little too late.  But it was ousted as frontrunner in the last day of nominations, when SP nominated a gerund that has both been discussed in the news this year and made its way into UK news.  And that gerund, The 2010 American-to-British Word of the Year is:

shellacking

The word came into the news, of course, when President Obama said that the Democrats had taken a shellacking in the midterm elections. It made enough of an impression in its native US that it came 7th in Merriam-Webster's top 10 words of 2010.  But it required even more looking-up in the UK.  The OED lists it as 'originally and chiefly U.S.', and it also lists the plain verb, shellac (note the lack of k!), as originally and chiefly AmE (while the noun, for the varnish-type substance, is not dialectally marked).  The BBC Magazine ran an article on 'What is a Shellacking?', David Crystal discussed it on Radio 4, Michael Quinion covered it on World Wide Words, and Jenny McCartney in the Telegraph thanked Obama for 'an extremely useful addition to the lexicon'--just to name a few UK commentators on the subject. One does seem to find shellacking in the UK sports press (especially regarding [BrE] football/[AmE] soccer) before Obama brought the word to public attention, but since Obama's statement, it seems as if the frequency of that usage has increased.  For example, in the Guardian, there are seven uses in November and December, but only two in Sept/Oct.  (However, there are five during the World Cup in South Africa and other clumps of them during the year.)  A search for the word in UK political contexts shows up in colloquial contexts such as:

Like, for instance, his [Cameron's] current 'shellacking' (love that word) over a supposed lack of vision and confidence in the recent Guildhall speech. [Skol303 comment on Nick Robinson's blog]

Vince Cable being torn a new one by Kirsty Wark on Newsnight...she got him so rattled he developed a Herbert Lom-like twitch (left eye) halfway though the shellacking by Wark (I kid you not). [samandmai comment on digital spy]

So thank you, SP, for a fantastic nomination!

And on to the BrE-to-AmE winner.  This is always a tougher category--in part, because I live in the UK, but mostly because of the lesser impact that UK news and popular culture makes in the US. The winner is not a particularly 2010 word--instead, it's one that's been making steady progress in AmE over the past decade.  But in hono(u)r of the near-culmination of the Harry Potter film adaptations, the British-to-American Word of the Year is:

ginger


...in particular, the adjectival use to describe hair colo(u)r and, to some extent, the noun use to mean 'a red-haired person'. Twice this year I've heard from US parents (including Mark Allen) who have said that their children use ginger in this more British way because of the influence of the Harry Potter stories, which features the red-headed Weasley family, including Harry's sidekick Ron. (Here's my old post on the topic.)  The much-discussed new Google n-gram tool shows 'ginger hair' steadily increasing in American English books since 1995, though Harry Potter was not released in the States till September 1998.  In British English books, however, there's an increase in the Harry Potter days (after some years of decline), but what looks to be a decrease as we come toward(s) the present. It's hard to say if that's meaningful--and unfortunately I don't have access to any British corpus that takes us up to date.  In the more reliable Corpus of Historical American English, there are 8 uses between 1940 and 1979, none in the 1980s, five in the 1990s and 8 in the 2000s, which seems to show the Harry Potter effect.  It's harder for me to find incursions of the noun ginger in the meaning 'red-head' in AmE, since one must search for word strings, not meanings.  All I can think to do is to note that the Urban Dictionary entry for the noun ginger include some contributions that spell color without a u.  Further evidence is welcome in the comments.


Also welcome in the comments are your thoughts on whether I've done an effective or abominable job in choosing this year's Words of the Year.  But if you don't like them and didn't nominate any, I reserve the right to roll my eyes at you.  Through the computer.  Ouch.

47 comments:

townmouse said...

I suspect the enthusiastic uptake of 'shellacking' in the UK press may reflect its similarity to 'bollocking' (in meaning and spelling) but without the vulgarity. I agree. Good WOTY

Does the recent US adoption of 'ginger' include its hard g version (pronounce to rhyme not entirely coincidentally with 'minger' which I've just noticed is my captcha word. Creepy)

lynneguist said...

Since 'minger' isn't used in US, I doubt that the ginger that rhymes with 'singer' is known much in US. But I'm hanging out with 70-somethings, 40-somethings and 5-year-olds, so not the best demographic for checking.

Anyone else?

Anonymous said...

I agree with townmouse that the adoption of shellacking - which I hadn't come across before - surely has an element of euphemism for bollocking. It's used that way in all the examples you give.

Nineveh_uk @ LJ

Ginger Yellow said...

Now I've really made it!

Bo said...

There also was a South Park several years ago that talked about ginger kids.

Chris said...

As I haven't read the Harry Potter books, I always associated "ginger" with the South Park episode Ginger Kids, which first aired in 2005. However, there are no occurrences in the ngram viewer for "ginger kid" or "ginger kids" since then, so it either had little effect, or coverage since then is too light (there's probably a decent intersection between South Park viewers and Urban Dictionary posters, though). [us-ny]

Chris said...

@Chris (the other one): the probable reason the Ngram Viewer had so few hits is that it's restricted to pre-2000 books. A simple google search retrieves over 70,000 hits and the Urban Dictionary entry has over 1000 up/down votes, so it's clearly in the contemporary vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

I am going to echo the first Chris and say the most effective way of searching for ginger in that sense is probably either "ginger kid" or simply "a ginger." I live in the US and both phrases were in very common use (in a jokingly derogatory way) when I was in high school 5+ years ago.

lynneguist said...

But 'a ginger' will mostly bring up cases like 'a ginger ale' or 'a ginger cake', while 'ginger kid', as noted, won't show up in the Google n-grams or the corpora.

Brenda said...

I approve of "ginger" as the word of the year! I had never heard it applied to a red-haired person until a couple years ago. South Park did their "ginger kids" episode, and Perez Hilton started referring to Prince Harry as a "ginger", and then it was all over the place! (I am from Minnesota)

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about the "hard g version" that Townmouse mentions. I've never heard of ginger being pronounced that way. I've also, though, never heard that I recall (only read) the word used to refer to a red-head.

HarlequiNQB said...

Let us not also forget that the Doctor's latest companion is conspicuously ginger, and this is commented on several times (If Van Gogh and Amy have children together the result would apparently be the ultimate Ginger).

Dr. Who isn't as popular in the US as the UK of course, but I've been asked a few times by fans I work with as to what it means (Apparently it's not obvious that they're referring to Amy's hair).

(I'm British, living in the US (IL))

Fritinancy said...

I had a red-haired uncle, now deceased, who was born in Palestine during the British Mandate. His nickname in Palestine was "Gingi" (pronounced jinjee), which combined the UK term for "red-haired" with a Hebrew adjectival suffix.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that "Shellacking" is getting so much attention. I've always been familiar with that colloquialism in the sense that Obama used. (And the *only* thing I have in common with the president is age.) I thought it was common in the USA. Reading these word of the year items, it seems to be new to everyone.

vp said...

@townmouse,@Anonymous

But "shellacking" is pronounced completely differently from "bollocking". "Shellacking" is stressed on the second syllable.

townmouse said...

'Ginger' with two hard 'g's is an more derogatory version of the normal ginger, usually used as a noun. It's a bit of a playground insult but there was some Australian traffic safety advert that used it. I had a look for the link - HowWeDrive featured it a while back here although it looks as if the video he included is now gone. Perhaps even the Australians have decided that one went too far. I have two red-haired nieces so I have no idea why I'm spreading this particular unpleasant meme.

townmouse said...

@vp is it? I would have put the stress on the first syllable. I've only ever seen it written down - I haven't tried it out myself yet. My US other half has just confirmed what you say though

Chris said...

To hear it in the original, skip to 6:17 of Obama's speech.

uzza said...

this is the first I've heard there was anything unusual about the word 'shellacking'. Growing up in the NW US, it was a perfectly ordinary word.

Etymology is from the French "thin shell/layer of lacquer"; it was the last thing done to a project, to finish it off, and when used as Obama did it retained overtones of that. Yes, accent on the second syllable.

Scott said...

I first became aware of 'Ginger' with the South Park episode as well. After watching that episode I remembered that there was a red-headed Spice Girl nicknamed Ginger Spice, It hadn't occurred to me before then that her nickname was a reference to her hair color.

William said...

I am a little surprised that the word shellacking is so little known. I have my self used the word more than 40 years ago. Meaning a good going over, physical or mental.

Rob Young said...

I grew up in '50s/'60s Australia and I knew what a shellacking was. My football team got one on a regular basis.

The Naked Listener said...

Can't believe people (especially in the UK today) don't know what a shellacking is. Prefects used to give their minions a right ol' shellacking for not doing things right (or even doing things right regardless).

As to 'ginger' - c'mon, you've got to be kidding me. Mum and I lived for a short while in Los Angeles in 1969/70 and we heard lots of people calling redheads 'redheads,' 'gingerheads,' 'gingers' and 'flametots.' What the hell's the matter with people today????

Anonymous said...

I think when "ginger" really hit mainstream American English was the real-life aftermath of that South Park episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAx8WVStPb0

Anonymous said...

I recall "ginger" or "ginger headed" being used in the 1995 film The Englishman who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (staring Hugh Grant, Colm Meany). Meany played Morgan the Goat, a ner do well who managed to avoid serving in the war (I believe the film was set during WWI). At some point in the film was a reference to the number of "ginger headed" children in town whose mothers' husbands were away at war.

I'm American, my parents were reared in Canada, and their parents were off the boat from Scotland and England in the early 20th century.

Donna
Tumwater WA USA

Anonymous said...

http://www.spectator.co.uk/politics/all/6543588/the-year-in-words-.thtml

Anonymous said...

I suspect the popularity of the Spice Girls might also have added to the "ginger" effect in the US, as they broke America in 1995.

Zach said...

In Western Australia the term 'ginger' to refer to red headed people now sounds slightly outdated. the term 'ranga' is much more commonly used and is much more derogatory than ginger. The word is derived from the word oranguatan.

Julie said...

Being an American (N.Calif.), I have no idea what a "bollocking" is. A shellacking is a whipping. I think it's a bit old-fashioned now, and probably better known among over-50's than under-30's, but I certainly grew up with it. It's very emphatic, but not vulgar. "If your dad finds out what you did, you're gonna get a shellacking." Michael Quinion discussed its origin at some length.

Not sure what "minger" means, either. Not sure I want to know.

I'd never run into "ginger" meaning "redhead" until the past few years. Never made the connection. If I'd ever seen a reference to ginger hair, I would have thought dark blond/light brown, not red. Like the gingerroot in my fridge, or my own hair. I've probably seen the term and simply assumed, wrongly, that I understood it.

Elizabeth said...

I read this entry yesterday and then went out drinking with my baby brother and a couple friends. He was randomly called ginger by three Americans in one night.

Asked him about it and he said he's experienced a huge upswing in being called ginger. Generally when it's an insult (normally a very jokey insult) there's a direct reference to the South Park episode (ie he was flirting with some girl last week and she said,"that's just because you gingers don't even have souls.") But more often than not it's neutral.

luis-mw said...

Bollocks is Brit slang for the testicles. A bollocking is a severe telling off that might be considered as painful as a kick thereto - e.g. "... the boss gave me a right bollocking for screwing up that order last week..."

Minger is a rather unpleasant term, popular among the younger generation, for anybody who fails to live up to their high expectations of attractiveness - "... yeah, Cindy's ok, but her friend Doris is a bit of a minger. Wouldn't touch her with yours, if you know what I mean..."

(no offence intended to anybody of those names who happens to be listening)

rhb said...

As we used to say in my East Anglian youth (1950's)
Bullocks plus Bollocks equals Bull

-ocks; diminutive
bullock; earlier young (small), later castrated, bull
bollock; small ball

And your word verification is REALLY disquietingly Turing-Test-worthy I got 'ocked'!

Anonymous said...

There's another curious similarity, in that like the different uses of ginger with soft and hard 'g's, the rude (very) word from which minger (with a hard 'g') derives, in its root form has a soft 'g'.

Johnny E said...

For clarification, the alternate pronunciation of "ginger" has a single hard g at the beginning, and thenceforth rhymes with "singer". "Minger", meaning ugly person, rhymes with both of these, while without the 'r' it's a rather crude word for female anatomy that rhymes, appropriately, with "cringe".

English-T said...

I have just been informed by my children that "ginga" is now the acceptable spelling for the "hard g" pronunciation (apparently it is vital to be able to tell them apart in the age of texting).

Later after their mother (a redhead) was not around they told me that it was still popular in the school yard to combine "ginga" and "minger" as an insult. It would appear that not much as much had changed at my old school in 25 years as i had thought.

Anonymous said...

I (U.S.) first encountered "ginger" to mean red-headed in Dorothy L. Sayers' Murder Must Advertise, which was first published in the mid 1920s. Perhaps because of that initial encounter, now over 30 years ago, I've noticed it occasionally in U.S. sources. I do think, though, that I've seen it more often in the last couple of years.

Fred said...

Ginger - don't forget the 1997 hit by David Devant and his Spirit Wife:

"Do you feel born out of time?
Does all the world seem behind you?
You must be ginger"

Ginga - first time I heard the hard g version was in Edinburgh, Scotland, where it is commonplace.

lynneguist said...

But to my knowledge, DD&HSW never hit it big in the States. (I think I was at a wedding with one of them once in Scotland, though...)

Andy JS said...

I've never heard of "shellacking" before and I read a lot of stuff.

John Burgess said...

As a red-head, I came across 'ginger' through reading British/Irish novels in my childhood (in the 1950s US). Although I was raised in a city with a majority of Anglo-Irish immigrants, the term was never heard among the spoken vocabulary.

I've never come across the 'hard G' pronunciation.

'Shellacking' was common, however.

'Minge' was a term used in childhood to mean anything/anyone who was really gross. There was a sense of 'bad smelling' involved as well as amorphous shape. We tended to think it was a rude name for the crud that accumulated between the toes of dirty children. That may have been an innocent interpretation of words spoken by adults being overheard.

Peter Tibbles said...

Here in Australia people with ginger hair (like me – well some time ago, most would now describe it as "white") were called Blue. Lately the term Ranga has become popular, particularly since Julia Gillard became Prime Minister (another Ginger/Blue/Ranga).

moodytrans said...

I teach high school in the Boston area. Had a red haired boy recently, whom his friends started calling "Ginger". They started off poking fun at him, but then he seemed to like it and so it stuck. I can well imagine that my students are better versed in South Park than Harry Potter. In any case, that word does seem to be widespread here nowadays.

Hayley M said...

What does "shellacking" actually mean? It sounds like it means "a beating", like being beaten in an argument. I'm American if that makes a difference in what I think "beating" means.

Little Black Sambo said...

Ginger Rogers.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVN_0qvuhhw

Ed said...

I wonder if shellacking is related to pasting, and whether pasting is used in AmE?

They seem to mean the same thing and the very oddness of "to cover in shellac/paste" as a metaphor suggests they are linked.

Dr Garry said...

Used to denote red-haired people in Australia, "ginger" dates back to at least the early 1920s, when the comic strip "Ginger Meggs" was first published. This starred a red-haired Dennis-the-Menace type. Until fairly recently, as an earlier correspondent notes, redheads were invariably nicknamed "Bluey". Now the derogatory useage is "ranga".