Word of the Year 2010: nominations, please!

(A lightly edited version of last year's announcement for this year.)

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 2010, but it should have come into its own in some way in the (popular culture of the) other dialect this year. 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 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 before Christmas.


  1. Edited a bit too lightly, alas: for "in 2009" read "in 2010".

  2. How about "austerity" in the economic sense?

  3. Don't know about your contest, but Big Society made NO impression on the west side of the Atlantic.

  4. @John: how embarrassing. Will fix.

    @Lisa: are you supposing that one dialect borrowed 'austerity' from the other? As far as I know, it's always been general English.

  5. At first thought I have to say we're hearing rather more about TEA over here in Britain nowadays. Of course most are in straight reports on US politics but on occasion it's being used in analysis of our own politics.

    And although it isn't in wide use I think the definition (Tweeted by someone I think) of a Sarah Palindrome as a phrase that reads forwards but sounds backwards deserves some recognition.

  6. Shaun: Well, there's been plenty about the "Tea Party" in news reports about US politics, and a few newspaper articles discussing whether something similar might happen in Britain.

    But I wouldn't think foreign news reporting counts as "importing" the terms involved.

  7. I don't think it's widespread, but I could be mistaken. A "Harry Potter" import, "ginger" as a term for a redhead is commonly used by my two children.

  8. Thanks, EditorMark. I've heard that from other US parents, so it's definitely a contender!

  9. Grrr. Not only is 'big society' not actually a word, but a phrase, the editors of that article can't even spell 'dictionaries' correctly.

    As a US to UK import, I feel obliged to mention Black Friday as a contender for 'Phrase of the Year', thanks largely to the power of Amazon. Though I am sort of hoping that by tomorrow we will all have collectively forgotten about it.

  10. Depends on your definition of 'word', Ros. We linguists like to think of it as meaning 'lexeme', rather than 'string of letters without a space'. A lexeme would be anything that is learnt as a unit, because it has a meaning that is more than the sum of its parts. That's true of both 'Big Society' (though it's not a contender in this contest) and 'Black Friday'.

    So, conventionali{s/z}ed phrases are welcome in this WotY.

  11. Hmm. We non-linguists tend to call a word a word and a phrase a phrase, which makes life simpler. And, of course, we don't call lexemes anything much at all. But this is your contest, so your rules apply. ;)

  12. Well, your loss! :)

    The 'no spaces' definition of 'word' relies on the written language, but the language lives most in the speaking.

  13. I meant that U.S. English uses "cutbacks" or "budget cuts" instead of "austerity" (measures or programs). But in all the news stories out of Europe, it says "austerity."

  14. When I was a child in NY state, our school system's budget was not approved by the voters, and we had to go on 'austerity budget' measures--so it's not just BrE. And since it doesn't seem to be an import in any direction right now, it can't be a contender.

    But please feel free to suggest others--this is a very quiet thread!

  15. Not aiming to pick a fight with an expert, or even to stray off-topic, but to claim that linguists understand "word" to mean "lexeme", or something that "has a meaning that is more than the sum of its parts" is surely a bit of a stretch! And as for the idea that non-linguists think a word is just some letters with a space either side, something no-one has suggested, I'm sorry, but that's an outrageous straw man(AmE?)/aunt sally(BrE?)

  16. I don't know, these floods of evil Americanisms invading BrE, where are they when you need one, eh? I can't think of anything remotely topical.

  17. In the light of Barack Obama's concession speech the day after the mid-terms, my word of the year is shellacking. PS: I recently blogged about the Americanisation of the English language. Other cool US words: boondoggle, scuttlebutt, careen, bobbasheely, willy-wags.
    If you're interested, here's my post...
    Penelope Keith 0-1 Great Linguistic Satan
    Keep up the good work!

  18. Well, Harry, I can't see any other way to comprehend the 'it's not a word, it's a phrase' complaint than to see it as relying on the orthographical definition of 'word', that it's a contiguous string of letters in print. It is an oversimplification to say that "linguists use 'word' to mean 'lexeme'", since there are also grammatical and phonological definitions of 'word'--certainly the grammatical definition (which involves acting as a unit with respect to affixes, placement in the sentence, uninterruptibility) lets 'Big Society' in. I suspect that the phonological one does too, but the phonological definition is the most specialist, and is apt to consider a string like 'the man' as a word. Lexicographers, though, will use the 'lexeme' meaning of 'word' in their day jobs, and that leaks through to Word of the Year hono(u)rs.

    I know a little too much about this to be fun at parties. If any one is interested, the article on 'Words' for the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language Sciences out this month! :) [It's priced for libraries, just at a time when libraries can't buy much. Alas.]

    I can't remember such a dearth of suggestions in the history of SbaCL WotY.

  19. Neither a word, nor a phrase, but a merged name - Brangelina and so on were cute showbiz shorthand terms, principally US - until William and Kate got engaged last week (do keep up over there!) and there was almost-serious discussion in the newspapers about their combined names. None of them really seem to work for these two names - I think Widdleton was a step too far!

  20. QE2 is a British word that's been exported to America this year, but the definition has changed completely so I guess it doesn't really count.

  21. HM the queen would probably not be too amused to discover that QE2 now means 'quantitative easing 2', but might accept that it unintentionally evokes her position, as constitutional monarch, of Champion of the People.

    Of course, AmE quantitative easing would seem to achieve the opposite of championing the people. So here we have a brand new separation by a common tongue.

  22. On 'austerity', it was very prevalent in England in the 1940s to describe things redesigned so as to use fewer of the sort of materials that were scarce in wartime or under rationing. Examples included sheets that were made in slightly smaller than adequate sizes so that they came out of the side of the bed when you were asleep and a class of railway engine that were known as 'Austerities'.

    So it isn't a new world at all unless it is new in the US.

    I've never heard QE2 used to mean anything other than a ship called after the lady to whom we sometimes colloquially (and of course reverentially) refer as HMQ.

    I like the idea of pronouncing 'palindrome' with a long 'a' in stead of its normal way to mean 'a phrase that reads forwards but sounds backwards'. I think I'll try that one at parties.

  23. Dru, weren't those war-time essentials produced to Utility specifications? It was bit before my time but I do remember Utility sheets and blankets which had lasted till my childhood but were definitely not luxurious! In one word the authorities said 'Back to Basics' and 'Fit for Purpose' - phtases that we are re-discovering in our new austerity.
    Kynaston's recent book 'Austerity Britain' describes the period 1946 - 1951.

  24. Possibly not an import. And even if it is, possibly not imported in 2010. But even so, I'll offer


    in the sense of expurgate or censor, for the AmE -> BrE direction.

    It's rare that I meet a word that is completely new to me, but it happened quite recently with redact/redaction/redacted. It had to come from somewhere, I figured, and the USA is the obvious suspect.

    In fact, the word itself has been around for a long time; I just hadn't met it. It's long been used to mean a reworking of some fragmentary material into a coherent whole - One Thousand and One Nights is given as an example. However, it has recently exploded into the media to describe the blanking out of sensitive parts of documents prior to their dissemination to the public.

    I think this usage appeared in earnest in the UK in 2009, driven by the MPs' expenses revelations. (Hence my doubt about the timeliness.) In late 2010, the reporting of documents released through Wikileaks has given redaction a new surge of prominence.

    So is there any evidence that it's imported from AmE? Not a lot, but maybe some. I can find the New York Times using the word (in the recent sense) more or less routinely from 2004 or so, whereas for UK papers I can't find this sense before about 2008. So I feel there's a hint, at least, of migration this way. But not much more than that - so I hope you'll not be too put out by a woefully under-researched submission!

  25. Thanks, David. The OED entry gives some 19th century UK examples, under the definition:

    'To put (writing, text, etc.) in an appropriate form for publication; to edit.'

    But it usually seems to be used with a sense of 'to remove bits that some people shouldn't see'.

    For example: 1829 Monthly Rev. Oct. 278 The account of his second expedition was carefully redacted.

    But that connotation is heightened in later AmE uses, e.g.

    1957 N.Y. Suppl. (Electronic ed.) 2nd Ser. 168 423 Means should have been adopted to redact De Gennaro's confession and admissions—before their introduction into evidence.

    In spite of the connotations in the current and OED uses, US dictionaries that I've looked at just give the meaning as 'to edit'--some even throw in the word 'literary'.

    MS-Word 2003 has a 'redaction tool' for hiding sensitive info in documents, so perhaps that's helped populari{s/z}e it, but the 'censor' usage really first struck me during the Abu Ghraib revelations.

    So, it may have been populari{s/z}ed in UK due to recent US populari{s/z}ation, but it's not originally AmE. But still could be a candidate...thanks!

  26. Laura in Cambridge02 December, 2010 14:32

    Hi Lynne, I feel as though I have seen "rubbish" thrown around in US publications a few times this year, in the sense of something being crappy, untrue, or of poor quality (but not meaning physical garbage)...perhaps in NYT? I will check and get back to you. Happy holidays!

  27. oh wait, I've got one. It's probably not that topical, but I've noticed suddenly UK sources using the phrase 'man up' to mean 'toughen up'. I don't know why it should suddenly have caught on but it has. I just did a search on 'man up' on UK sites in google and pages from the Guardian and even the Telegraph(!) came up. Personally, I think it's pretty ugly but I can't think of a snappy BrE equivalent so perhaps it's here to stay

  28. Laura, if you do find any places where it's used, do let me know. I'll try looking into it too.

    Townmouse, thanks--I think it's had something of a year in the US too, but if it's more novel here, that's a reasonable candidate.

  29. "man up", while around in the US for a while, really exploded in 2010, often used by female candidates for political office. if it's popular now in the UK, my apologies on behalf of my country, because I happen to hate it as much as townmouse.

  30. There were two new words I'd never heard before in the Weekend Supplement of the Times last Saturday. They are 'vagacial' and 'vajazzle'. From the two articles they appeared in, they come from New York. So if they catch on, they will definitely be imports. This may even have been their first use on this side of the Ocean, in which case their arrival can be dated to 4 December 2010.In mixed company and on a respectable website, I'd not be prepared to say what they mean.

    I've also a more serious candidate, though it possibly doesn't belong specifically to 2010, rather than somewhere between about 2008 and now. That is the use of 'present', in the following medical sense, 'when we assess those that present with back pain, it often turns out to have different cause from the more obvious spinal or muscular problems'.

    It seems to mean something like 'turn up in a surgery/doctor's office with some symptoms, until someone has definitively diagnosed what they have got wrong with them'.

    It could though be used in other ways such as 'unemployment presents as a shortage of jobs, but may indicate more personal issues'.

  31. Spotted in last week's Church of England newspaper, a word that I have previously heard only in the US: normalcy. In the UK, we say normality.

    Also, redact has been around for ages in academia in the UK. Redaction criticism is a well-established method of literary analysis of ancient texts. So I'd guess that its use in the recent MP's expenses scandal, for instance, indicates that it is creeping from academic to popular use, rather than from US to UK.

  32. Another new word in yesterday's Times, but not a nomination. I really hope this one does not catch on.

    In an article on Mr Assange, "This week Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, said ....."People will be misimpressioned if they think the only thing we are looking at is the Espionage Act".

    Do I need to identify which word is the one I've not met before? A clue - it's a participle.

  33. For me, the word redact has come to have a new meaning this year. I first came across the word in the reports on the death of Baby P, published a month or two ago. It seems that it now has a different meaning to censor or edit, as the reader doesn't know if a piece has been censored or edited. However, with an article that has been redacted, you get ugly black boxes all over the place, so the reader knows the piece has been changed.

  34. For US to UK import, I nominate the verb shellack, in the sense of punish, as used by Barack Obama after midterm elections in the US. I don't know how widespread it's really become, but I've noticed it several times in UK sources (mainly the Guardian, I think) since then. And it's surely new to BrE, because the papers were full of explanations of the word right after Obama used it.

  35. Here's a Google News search that doesn't utterly contradict me. Perhaps the nomination should be shellacking, though.


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