Word of the Year 2011: Nominations, please!

(A lightly edited version of last year's announcement for this year. There is one more week of the Term from Hell, after which there is the Marking from Hell, but I do hope to get back to regular blogging soon.)

Word of the Year season has begun (though I must say, I do not approve of announcing WotYs in November. Oxford Dictionaries is so cruel to December). This means it's time for me to start the ball rolling for our little twist on WotY escapades.

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 2011, 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. I'm going with the obvious, Occupy, only because it did start in the US (Wall Street) and spread abroad. Though your summer riots may have been a foretelling of things to come.

  2. For BrE to AmE, I nominate "kettling," a police tactic imported from the UK and used this year by the New York Police Department during an Occupy Wall Street protest. Background: http://bit.ly/nFeu1V

  3. I've noticed 'dodgy' (meaning questionable or risky) making inroads into American speech recently - MSNBC's Rachel Maddow spoke of "dodgy procedural means" in Wisconsin's Senate.

    'Gobsmack' (astonish) is also getting some currency. Here's but one example from the Boston Phoenix (Boston's part of America, right?): "Head to Harvard Medical School's Warren Anatomical Museum, New England's ne plus ultra of gobsmacking forensic weirdness." Interestingly, the root word 'gob' (mouth) is not making the same crossover, and sometimes the corrupted version, 'godsmack', shows up. Not that 'godsmack' shouldn't be a word.

    My final vote is for 'shite', now beloved of US bloggers and forum rats, and why not? It just sounds shittier than 'shit'.

  4. I'd agree with Peter about gobsmacked.

    Also about shite, but for a different reason; swearing without people thinking you're swearing.

  5. Hmm, to me adding the extra letter makes it more intense, sort of like when Woody Allen says (in Annie Hall) "Love is too weak a word for what I feel, I lurve you".

    How do they see it in Britain?

  6. I agree with the two suggestions above.

    AmE>BrE: Occupy
    BrE>AmE: Kettling

    @Peter Mork: Yes, Boston is part of the U.S. I find it odd that a lot of people think of New England (The six states Northeast of New York) is part of Canada despite it being the place the revolution was started.

    On a tangent to that, why are we called "New Englanders" instead of "New English"? Is there a specific grammatical rule working here or does the former just sound better?

  7. Joey Nordberg

    Although we don't usually speak of Englanders, we do have the term Little Englanders for people with a mindset that excludes the rest of the world. We also speak of Laplanders and New Zealanders.

    The -ish forms are less geographical in meaning than the -er forms. The Boston Irish do not live in a place called Boston Ireland.

  8. I'm noticing that the BrE "chatting up" is crossing the pond but losing its sexual overtone.

    Example: "Apple's Tim Cook Chats Up Fans" - http://www.mobiledia.com/news/118481.html

    Earlier in the year, I almost choked on my tea when I heard:
    "Ann Curry Chats Up A Dog" - http://www.bestweekever.tv/2011-09-09/ann-curry-dog

  9. "Hmm, to me adding the extra letter makes it more intense, sort of like when Woody Allen says (in Annie Hall) "Love is too weak a word for what I feel, I lurve you".

    How do they see it in Britain?"

    It's a regional variation, and I suspect mainly working class in the places where it is used. The person I would most associate its use with is Steve Coogan's comic character Paul Calf, who's from Manchester. That is however anecdote not data. If there hasn't been a survey of its use no doubt that's an opportunity for a student somewhere.

  10. Interesting. I (US) never thought of "gobsmacked" (the adjectival form only, not the verb) as particularly British. Same with dodgy.

  11. I always associate "shite" with one of Posy Simmonds' cartoon characters in The Guardian in the 1980s.... I think he may have been Northern, or quasi-Northern, but I can't remember now.

  12. I'd definitely vote against "occupy" as an eastwards migration. It was an entirely normal UK word before and is understood here as the protesters using it with its normal meaning, not with some new meaning it didn't previously have. If it has some other meaning in AmE, that hasn't migrated with it.

  13. AmE to BrE:

    1. "Pleased to meet you" said when speaking for the first time to someone on the telephone (who you have never met in person).

    2. "Reach out to X" meaning "contact X".

  14. "A usage that's seldom got right
    Is when to say shit and when shite;
    And many a chap
    Will fall back on crap,
    Which is vulgar, evasive and trite."

    attributed to Philip Larkin and Robert Conquest; quoted in Kingsley Amis's autobiography. For more see the Language Log: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004633.html.

  15. AmE to BrE "Entitled", as in the usage, "Oh, she's so entitled!" meaning someone who is pushy and grabby and thinks she (or he, of course) deserves the best. Not a usage I'd come across until recently.

  16. I will vote for quotative "all" for AmE->BrE word. It has all but died in the States (replaced by quotative "like"), and from browsing at a British corpus for some research recently, seems vibrantly alive in the UK.
    I agree that "shite" has entered the AmE lexicon with some ferocity.

  17. You mean, the grading from hell?

    That's one term I had to consciously remind myself to use when I moved to America for college.

  18. I nominate "FTW" for AmE to BrE import. I have noticed a few British tweeters using it recently - a couple of examples from this week: https://twitter.com/#!/mjrobbins/status/145995563597443072, https://twitter.com/#!/edyong209/status/146414555646541825. I predict it will become more common.

  19. I've started using it. I always thought it was something rather rude, and then a kind friend translated it for me!

  20. I just had reason to look up `gobshite', thinking it quintessentially a term from this side of the Atlantic, with a particularly Irish flavour. The OED claims to trace its use to US Navy slang, with earliest recorded use in 1910 almost 40 years before any attested use in the UK. Surprised me.

  21. I (American) question FTW (as "for the win") as a AmE to BrE import. It's new to me too. I think it's just becoming more used, more visible, period.

  22. >The OED claims to trace its use to US Navy slang, with earliest recorded use in 1910 almost 40 years before any attested use in the UK.

    If that's the case, I'm gobsmacked. But I wasn't in the US Navy in 1910, so anything's possible.

  23. @Anonymous: Several sites attribute the phrase to US gameshow Hollywood Squares. The UK had it's own version, Celebrity Squares, in the 1970s but I don't recall host Bob Monkhouse using the phrase (not that anything about the show is particularly prominent in my memory). Until recently, it was a phrase I'd come upon only, though frequently enough to have noticed it, on US blogs or US TV shows but, of course, that's just personal impression - you may be right.

  24. Wait, are we talking about 'gobsmack' or 'gobshite? If the latter was ever spoken on Hollywood Squares, TV sets across America would've exploded.

    It occurred to me, 'gob' is an old US slang term for sailor. So does that mean being gobsmacked is akin to being punched by a swabbie?

  25. @Peter Mork: they're talking about 'for the win!'!

  26. It turns out that Ben Zimmer discussed the origins of `gobshite' and related terms on Language Log in 2007, with comments from Lynne Murphy. The older documented US Navy use may be descriptive of the spat tobacco wads associated with sailors. There's also discussion there of `shite' ("a jocular alternative to `shit'"), again with reference to this blog.

    As regards `FTW', is this supposed to be read out as the string of letters or as `for the win', since, when spoken, it is one of those abbreviations involving `W' that is longer than what it purportedly abbreviates.

  27. 'Gob' normally means 'mouth' over here.

  28. I nominate 'rather' as in 'I rather like X'. I've always thought of it as being very British, but suddenly its all over the place.

  29. Dru

    'Gob' normally means 'mouth' over here.

    What else can it mean?


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