Words of the Year 2009

I'm celebrating (for two-and-a-half minutes) a major milestone in the preparation of the book manuscript (FINAL VERSION--eek!) that is due by the 30th (double EEK!) by logging on briefly for a little cut-and-paste posting. (Spot the differences between this and last year's version!)

Word of the Year season has begun. That means it's time for me to start the ball rolling for our little twist on WotY fever.

Long-term readers will know that we have (at least) two Words of the Year here at SbaCL, and nominations are open for both categories as of now:
1. Best AmE to BrE import
2. Best BrE to AmE import
The word doesn’t have to have been imported into the other dialect in 2009, but it should have come into its own in some way in the (popular culture of the) other dialect this year. (I'll admit I have something in mind for category 2--but I can be persuaded.) I retain the editor's privilege of giving other random awards on a whim.

Please nominate your favo(u)rites and give arguments for their WotY-worthiness (WotYness?) in the comments to this post. It might be helpful to see my reasoning on why past words were WotY worthy and other nominations weren't. Click on the WotY tag at the bottom of this post in order to visit times gone by.

Vote early and often! I plan to announce the winners in the week after Christmas.

58 comments

  1. Islamofascism - it's come to the UK from the US almost totally through the power of Web 2.0 in the face of official protests in both countries that the phenomenon doesn't exist.

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  2. For AmE to BrE: "staycation"

    (despite [or perhaps because] of the search for a "native" synonym)

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  3. I'm not sure that "staycation" qualifies, since it seems to have changed meaning during its travels. In America it usually means "remaining in your own residence while taking a week or two of annual leave from work", whereas in UK and Ireland it usually means "going somewhere in your own country for a holiday, instead of going abroad". The latter definition would be less useful in America; the country is so big that many people stay within it while travelling a long way for their vacation.

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  4. Certainly when I first heard of staycation in the UK it was with the American definition. Over the past couple of months I have seen the UK holiday sense in a couple of articles. The usage there jarred, not least because, as one of the articles pointed out, she was spending as much on a holiday in England as she would have done going abroad, negating the idea of staycations.

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  5. Staycations aren't just about cost. They're also useful for DVD marathons and doing touristy things in your own city.

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  6. The Tories had an "open primary" to select their candidate for Totnes in the general election. This is an early contender for MotY 2010.

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  7. Thanks for the suggestions so far--please keep them coming!

    @mollymooly: Were there things called 'primaries' here before? I.e. did they call the former closed votes 'primaries'?

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  8. @Emmet: Can you point me to some of the attempts at 'native' synonyms?

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  9. "Staycation" is a brand-new coinage here (in California), too....I'd never heard it before last year.

    And I always did think most people stayed home during vacations. Maybe that says more about my economic stratus than anything else, though.

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  10. I've heard "beautification" being used a few times in Britain which I previously thought was only used in America. Not sure whether it really is a new word in Britain or not.

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  11. Andy - Beautification is pretty well established in BrE - it has a mid-20th C feel about it.

    Lynneguist - British candidates for Parliament, whether a general election or a by-election, always seemed to emerge from a mysterious selection process, which involved interviews (of candidate and his wife!) and perhaps some ghastly social event with the members of the local constituency association. It's all much more open and regulated nowadays, and involves a speech, follwed by Q&A and a public ballot that has to be seen to be fair, hence the increasing comparisons with the US 'primaries'.

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  12. Re Primaries: In Australia, the process by which candidates from a specific party are selected to contest an election is called "Preselection". This wikipedia article suggests that the terminology is the same in the UK, Canada and NZ.

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  13. Here are three, the first 2 from commenters on the Guardian's site, and the third from the Times:

    I suggest 'Broliday' (British holiday), which has the advantage of reminding everyone to pack an umbrella.
    ...
    Surely a staliday, hoay or holitay would work much better as vacation is an American expression and all are more English?'British holiday' is perfectly adequate...
    ...
    Some commentators have recoiled at the word staycation, deeming it a step too far, vis-à-vis the adoption of the slang of our American cousins. Personally, I don't mind it. It sounds a bit more purposeful than the only viable alternative, “home-iday”

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  14. Andy - Lewis Carroll in "Alice" implied "beautification" to be a word. The Mock Turtle refers to learning "ambition, distraction, uglification and derision" at school, and when Alice asks what uglification is, he explains that to uglify is the opposite of to beautify.
    Kate (UK)

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  15. "Surely a staliday, hoay or holitay would work much better as vacation is an American expression and all are more English?'British "

    Homiday?

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  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  17. Admittedly this is demonstrating a much greater American influence on my psyche than the word "staycation" ever could, but "Broliday" has a horribly fratboy-ish sound to it (and raises the question, if you began a heterosexual-life-partnership while on such a break, would it be a Broliday Bromance?)

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  18. I've never heard 'staycation' before, but it sounds horrible. Not to mention illogical as I always understood vacation to mean going on holiday, as opposed to having some holiday (time). Time off work being distinct from going away.

    If people were just staying at home I'd expect them to say "I'm taking some holiday" just because they want a few days away from the office. If they said "I'm goign on/having a vacation" they could only mean they were travelling somewhere.

    I haven't got a suggestion yet fro AmE to BrE WotY, but I vote aganst 'staycation'!

    'Bromance' however, I'm rather fond of, though I understand it to have a different meaning to the one you're implying John. As in, purely platonic. It is Hollywood after all.

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  19. I followed the link and retract my last statement.

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  20. In normal American usage, "vacation" is at least as likely to mean "time off from work" as "time spent traveling."

    "Holiday," on the other hand, we reserve for special days, not just any old day we get off from work.

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  21. I was actually having this conversation with an American friend the other day. Because we were talking about our favourite Feast Days and suchlike, which in AmE you can collectively refer to as 'holidays' but that wouldn't really be appropriate in the UK as you still have to go to work on most of them.

    This has undoubtedly been discussed elsewhere, so I'll seek that post...

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  22. Lynneguist, I am no expert on Tory party procedures, but I believe that hustings were involved (and possibly still are). But otherwise candidates were just 'selected'. Oh, the difference an 's' makes.

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  23. @Altissima I went and checked the wiki in order to correct it if necessary, but actually, all the links listed under the UK section do refer to the process as 'selection' rather than 'preselection'.

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  24. I don't know that this counts but it's irritated me for ages and this evening I saw a group of Cambridge mathematicians who really should know better use it: billion.

    Let me explain. There is a perfectly good British English word, 'billion'. It means 1,000,000,000,000.

    There is another perfectly good American English word, 'billion'. It means 1,000,000,000. That is, it is a thousand times smaller. When I was at school, I was taught to call this 'a thousand million'.

    The American billion has been taking over for some time now. A couple of years ago, I remember it being used on Radio 4 in an article about consumer debt. I was cross enough to email in to complain, and pleasingly, in the next bulletin, the announcer corrected the usage. This year, following a similar incident, no such correction was made. And now that mathematicians (as opposed to just economists) are using it in its American sense, I feel that the English usage is finally doomed.

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  25. @ros:

    You are about 30 years out of date. What you describe as the "British" usage of billion was officially abandoned by the UK government in 1974.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_and_short_scales

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  26. Million and billion are used colloquially - and it is true to say that Britain agreed some time ago to use billion for a thousand million, but all mathematicians and scientists will write these figures as 'ten to the power of...' because they know it's confusing.

    A usage that used to grate with me, but is sadly now becoming familiar, is the AmE use of 'likely' where BrE might have 'probably'. Example 'this phenomenon is likely derived from sunspots'.
    Older BrE usage would say:
    ...is probably derived from ...
    ...may be derived from...
    ... is likely to be derived from...
    or indeed ... is most likely derived from.

    Without the 'most' before the word, it just sounds wrong. Even my scientiific colleagues use this construction now - it does save a couple of words but I cannot bring myself to say it.

    Of course, it's likely that you won't count this as a 'Word' for the WotY!

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  27. In the spirit of Time magazine voting Ayatollah Khomeini it s Man of the Year for 1979, I propose "intelligent design" as US-to-UK import. It's been building steam for a few years, first in Australia, then in the mother country. It hasn't surged this year in particular, but I have noticed more newspapers printing "teach the debate" articles.

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  28. @vp, How odd. I was born in 1974, so you would think that I would always have known only the short scale system. But I was definitely taught 'British' and 'American' usage at school, and it's only in the last few years that I've noticed the other in the media. And as biochemist pointed out, scientists tend not to use the term at all.

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  29. And biochemist, I am still valiantly resisting the use of 'likely' as an adverb.

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  30. Thanks Ros, stand fast!

    I have just seen 'nix' again in the Times - but it was in a feature by Caitlin Moran, who used it last year ... too infrequent to count as an import? It's a North American word meaning to forbid, deny, refuse to countenance .. and all in three letters!

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  31. @ros:

    I was also born in 1974 (in the UK), and I have never heard "billion" ever used to mean 10^12, except in discussions over usage such as this one. My guess is that you had an idiosyncratic schoolteacher who was attached to the long system.

    For evidence, I did a search on Google Books for usages of the word "billion" in books published between 1960 and 1980. To try to restrict my search to British books, I only looked at books with word "British" in the title (imperfect, I know, but the best I could do). The results of my search seem to confirm that "billion" is used to mean 10^9, since most of them are in financial contexts where 10^12 can be ruled out (Britain isn't that rich!)

    Here's a link to my Google Books search (not sure whether it will work for you).

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  32. @vp - I was definitely taught different American and British and American usages of "billion" at school in the UK, post 1974. I was vaguely aware (without having ever much thought about it) that the "American" usage was more often used these days, but had not realised that the offical position had changed. I can only assume that the British Government didn't do too good a job of advertising the fact!

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  33. I'm a financial journalist writing for a British based publication using British English as the basis of our style guide. Billion always means "thousand million" for us. Surely you can see the advantage of having uniform meaning here. In almost all contexts where billions are being thrown about, it would be helpful for both Americans and Brits (not to mention other
    anglophones) to be confident they're thinking of the same number. Science, finance, politics - these are areas of global discourse.

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  34. Well I started school in late 1991 and I'd never heard of an American billion till well into my teens. It was always a million million and I was under the impression that the majority of Brits consider this to be the case.

    I'm deeply opposed to adverbing likely!

    This is OT I admit, but have any of you noticed how newsreaders tend to drop their aitches these days? Especially on the pronoun 'he'. As in "Mr. Hughes stands charged with murder. E's due to appear in court tomorrow morning where e will give evidence..."
    I hate that.

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  35. British, 38 years old. I have never heard "billion" used in any context other than "thousand million". I would suggest that Solo's experience is far from normal.

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  36. @Ginger Yellow, I have no objection to a uniform standard. I would just like it to be the British one. :) There is (was?) a perfectly good word for a thousand million, the milliard.

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  37. @ros:

    Perhaps you'd also like to go back to shillings and half-crowns :)

    Your point about "milliard" is apt. People need to talk about 10^9 a LOT more than they need to talk about 10^12 (although we may soon need 10^12 to talk about the UK's national debt). For some reason "milliard" didn't catch on in the UK. In its absence, some other word was needed for 10^9, and that word was "billion".

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  38. For a British incursion into American English, I will have to opt for gastropub. The following link from the local paper is a rather amusing look into the mild horror of a Briticism creeping into into the American language.

    http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_13697413

    Even though I've now been to a gastropub in Denver, LA, DC, and Kansas City, the spellchecker still does not admit that this word has been added to the lexicon.

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  39. that article in the denver post claims buttered noodles was 'standard grub' in british pubs pre-90s.
    i've never heard the term before (i'm british), is it something we'd have another name for?

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  40. @CGP: which are you referring to: 'buttered noodles' or 'standard grub'?

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  41. @Huw: How dare you! My exoerience is not in the least abberent!

    And maybe they meant spaghetti? I've often heard Americans referring to spaghetti as noodles and I'm sure it wasn't unusual for pubs to toss it with some butter to stop it drying out, we just wouldn't have bothered describing it as 'buttered'.

    The idea of a gastropub in the US is quite funny though, seeing as they haven't really grasped a not-gastro pub. In the nicest possible way.

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  42. I've never heard of "buttered noodles" either. I suspect it's just a journalist who doesn't know what he's talking about.

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  43. I apologise for the typos and spelling errors in my previous post. Careless.

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  44. lynneguist said...
    which are you referring to: 'buttered noodles' or 'standard grub'?

    buttered noodles. and i think Huw's right.

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  45. A useful rule of thumb for the billion/"milliard" debate - "6 billion" is pretty much the accepted roundabout figure for the world's population. Every now and again in a particularly conservative or pedantic publication (or one particularly aware of the double meaning of billion) you'll hear "6 thousand million", but it seems pretty rare nowadays.

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  46. I don't think that buttered noodles was meant as something particularly British but rather something that was tepid and kind of lame.

    Although in AmE, spaghetti is a somewhat generic term for pasta (although nowadays it's definitely thought of in relation to linguine, angel hair, rigatoni, etc.), I think the use of noodles underscores the sense of generic-ness and blandness.

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  47. "Gastropub" has its uses in Britain, but I can't see any reason for it to be adopted in America, except for snobbishness. The US has no history of standard pubs for the gastropub concept to contrast itself with.

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  48. There are considerably less people in the world than I thought there were.

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  49. @Solo, I'm sure you meant to say 'fewer'. ;)

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  50. I didn't, but I'll accede your point. My mother would be disappointed in me. So too my university English Language tutors I expect...

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  51. Looks like Marcel Berlins is making a last ditch attempt to introduce 'turducken' into the UK in time for WOTY 2009 (scroll down to the last two paras). But I suspect the attempt is doomed - 'gastro-' might be an unhappy prefix for a pub, but 'turd-' is an even worse one for a foodstuff...

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  52. "The US has no history of standard pubs for the gastropub concept to contrast itself with."

    On the other hand, since the rise of the craft-beer movement in the US, "brewpub" has become completely naturalized as a useful term for a bar (or more likely, a bar and restaurant) where beer is made on the premises.

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  53. I've just seen a Mastercard advertisement for 'the perfect Christmas wish list'. That's a tautology in BrE - one writes a Christmas list for Father Christmas, a wedding list for the Happy Couple, and for birthdays, a present list.
    Am I correct to think that 'wish list' in general has come from AmE?

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  54. "Wish list" probably comes from shopping sites like Amazon, which originated in the States. I'd never heard the term before I used Amazon. These days, just about everybody has used Amazon at some point, so would be familiar with the phrase.

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  55. I'm sure I'd heard wish list (or wishlist?) in Britain pre-Amazon. Not unknown in IT circles to refer to a client's possible requirements before they're turned into serious requests.

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  56. How about Twillionaire - someone with a million followers of Twitter ?

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  57. Let us not forget twitosphere while we are at it

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Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)