Words of the Year nominations?

It's that time of year again. Dictionary publishers are already starting to announce their words of 2015, ignoring anything interesting that might happen in November and December. Poor November and December.
The twist on Words of the Year on this blog is that I choose the most 'of the year' borrowings from US-to-UK and from UK-to-US. For past WotYs, see this old post. (And from that post you can click further to read the reasons for various WotY choices.)

I go into this WotY season with no favo(u)rites. What do you think? Are there any US-to-UK or UK-to-US borrowings that are particularly 2015-ish? They don't have to have first come to the other country this year, but they should have had particular attention or relevance in the other country this year. Please nominate them in the comments below (not by email or Twitter, please--it makes more work for me to keep track of many different streams).

I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on the matter!

Miscellaneous news and shameless self-promotion

I'm giving two talks this month:
  • Wed 25 November (13.00), University of Sussex campus: 'Separated by a Common Politeness formula: please in American and British English' Click here for more details. All welcome!
  • Fri 27 November, Thanksgiving lunch, English-Speaking Union, West Sussex chapter, Chichester: 'Separated by a Common Language'. Click here for more details
I have also started a new blog, and have quickly populated it with some posts. When I started this here blog, I was working on antonyms in the day job and blogging about British and American English as a hobby. Now I'm writing about British and American English as part of my day job, so I've made myself a little outlet for antonym thoughts. That blog is not intended to work like this one--I won't be taking requests for posts, for example, and I'll mostly be using it to keep track of things that amuse or intrigue me, rather than to try to educate people about lexicology. But if it's of any interest to you, it's called Who Shall Remain Antonymous.

And it occurs to me that (BrE-ish) I've not said anything on this blog (at least I don't think I have) about my good news. For 2016, I will be one of the inaugural recipients of the National Endowment for the Humanities' Public Scholar award. What this means is that I will finally have the time to write the book that this blog has threatened to spawn for some time. (The book is actually a closer relation to the How America Saved the English Language talk that I've given many times in England. That is to say, it's more the grandspawn of the blog than the spawn.) I've also been fortunate enough to receive a small grant from the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust to do some work in dictionary archives, which will continue the train of thought I started with this blog post, and contribute research for part of the book.

The blog has also spawned a series of four articles for English Today, to be published starting with the first issue of 2016.

So, that's the bloggy blog spawn for the moment. And as soon as I finish marking these essays (which this very post was a procrastination measure against), I'll have another proper post for you here.


  1. I nominate "wearables"--wearable computing technology--because even The Doctor on Doctor Who is spouting the term now.

  2. "I've not"? Shouldn't that appear as "I've not/I haven't"?

  3. Congratulations! Well-deserved, you must be pleased/proud/chuffed!

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  5. n0aaa:

    has the one started being used in the other country this year? It's not a difference of the year we're looking for, but words that have moved from one place to the other. Sorry if that wasn't clear; if it was--then could you make a case for the use in the other country?

  6. Congratulations indeed -- and such distinguished company you keep! But yours is the book I will most look forward to reading.

  7. I'm with John, I've not sounds odd to ths American ear, it would be I haven't.

  8. I nominate for UK-to-US WOTY:


    I've seen the word used this year (singular and plural, but more commonly plural, it seems) by US print media (with some TV mentions) to refer to the members of a certain congressional caucus who were first elected in the elections of 2010/2012/2014, and so at this point can't all be referred to as "freshmen", the usual term for first termers. But the point of the caucus is that they are influential as a bloc but aren't leadership, and are in fact opposed to their own partisan leadership. Ironically, the caucus' primary grievance with that leadership has been the way in which congressional procedure has been altered along Westminsterian lines (centralizing power in the speakership, making the position partisan, tightening party influence over committees, the Hastert Rule) since Newt Gingrich became speaker in 1995.

    I'm not quite sure the term quite fits as a description of this caucus' position in terms of power, but the term has been used to refer to its members in 2015.

  9. I don't know if this one is particularly 2015, but a robust UK-to-US borrowing that I've noticed is "spot on". At least I assume it started in the UK because that's where I first heard it. Now you see headlines in the U.S. press like this:

    "Watch Ariana Grande's spot-on Celine Dion impression"

    "Nordstrom's Results Say Its Strategy Is Spot On"

  10. Irene C - I saw a US newspaper use "back-benchers" too! It was referring to the also-ran Republican candidates in the debate the other night.

  11. What's interesting about the US use of "back-benchers' cited here is that isn't quite the same as what it means where it started off. This is something about expressions migrating that I've commented on before.

  12. Irene C. said... congressional procedure has been altered along Westminsterian lines (centralizing power in the speakership, making the position partisan, tightening party influence over committees, the Hastert Rule) since Newt Gingrich became speaker in 1995

    For the record our Westminster Speaker isn't partisan, that's the Leader of the House (cf Majority Leader)

  13. There's another fundamental difference. Our equivalent of the Leader of the House is the Prime Minister. However, the PM exercises actual power more comparable to the President and his Cabinet but is personally answerable to the House of Commons, as are the other Ministers. There are also shadow ministers who have comparable portfolios in the opposition. They have no power but are hungry for it.

    Ministers and shadow ministers sit in the front rows facing each other on opposite sides of the House. The rest sit in tiered rows behind them. So back benchers are rank and file members of Parliament who have no such responsibilities. Their parties expect them to vote in accordance with instructions, but some are more compliant than others. Ministers who are demoted return to the back benches.

    I've got the impression over the years that people on opposite sides of the Atlantic are surprisingly unaware quite how different our constitutional set-ups are. That's more surprising in the US, which has a land neighbour whose constitutional tradition is much more like ours than yours.

    Changing the subject, I came across a new word today which I'm going to predict will migrate eastwards, though whether it does by December 31st or early next year, I'm less sure. It's a 'gotcha'.

    Obviously, that's slang. If I've got it right, it's a question a media person puts to a politician which catches the politician out. Specifically It's one that fools him or her into giving an answer which self-plasters the face with egg.

  14. The connotations of backbencher have changed in recent times.

    I remember a time when the backbenchers evoked a picture of 'the troops', the foot-soldier majority. One sensed that they had a power — albeit one that could be used only very seldom. They were a majority; without their continued support the leadership would be lost.

    Nowadays, the connotation is of a minority whose support is not crucial — most of the time.

    What has brought about this change is the rise of the so-called 'payroll'. Between the true backbenchers and the government ministers of the front bench are a swollen number of junior assistants to Ministers within ministries and as 'parliamentary secretaries'. Some of these are real jobs with salaries; some are unpaid. Either way, they are stepping stones to real power. Crucially, the holders are a clientage; the Prime Minister and senior ministers appoint them and thereby become patrons who expect to be rewarded by their loyalty. As well as personal loyalty to individual patrons, these appointments place an increased pressure on 'the payroll' to support the party line and vote as required by the 'whips'.

    So backbenchers nowadays are seen as a minority of free spirits who have nothing to lose, and are much more likely to vote against the party line.

  15. A further thought on the declining importance of backbenchers.

    Until comparatively recently, the leaders of there main parties were chosen exclusively by the MPs, of whom the backbenchers were well and away the majority. This could amount to choosing the next Prime Minister. Now all the parties have electoral processes which involve the whole membership. Indeed, the Labour Party has just had an election where you didn't even need to be a party member, provided that you sympathised with the party's aims.

    Backbenchers still have more of an effect on the vote, but so do all MPs, frontbencher, backbench and payroll.

  16. Dru - a "gotcha question" is just a trick question. Outside of the context of the recent republican debates, i don't know that anyone in the US would call anything "a gotcha" and expect to be understood.

  17. Have to disagree, the 'gotcha' is very commonly understood in the context of politics in general, at every level, in every election, from the least important state and county races to the national and presidential. Republicans are simply complaining about it more loudly this year because they have presented many opportunities to easily do this and make themselves look bad.

  18. I also agree with Laura Cameron that the book sounds amazing, and as a student of the field of comparative linguistics/linguistic anthropology (how words are actually used and travel and how dialects and languages diverge over time while borrowing from each other in the meantime, specifically, espcially but not always historically) I am highly looking forward to it and hope it will be available for kindle when it is published. Best of luck to you with that endeavour!

    As well, I forgot to mention that I would vote for backbenchers as the UK-to-US word, this is the first year I've seen it used so frequently by so many sources in an American context. It sounds very odd to my ear to be honest, as I'm familiar with it as a Briticism.

    Wearables also sounds like a good candidate in the opposite direction - when the word makes it to Doctor Who, it has truly arrived in the zeitgeist of the UK culture. Sorry for not having alternative suggestions, but I would absolutely vote for those, they are good ones imo.

  19. Can I nominate "Mac and Cheese" as a US to UK word? Being British, I tend to call the dish "macaroni cheese" but I've noticed it a lot over the last year on British pub menus as "mac and cheese" (which I believe is an American term). I did a quick Google of pubs near me (West London) and of those which offer it on the menu, they all call it mac and cheese.


  20. Interesting and curious. I've not encountered that one. Is it perhaps a London peculiarity. I think I'd have assumed a Mac and Cheese was a bap with some sort of burger but with a slice of cheese in the bap as well.

  21. Wouldn't that be a cheeseburger?

  22. "One-off" for "one of a kind" seems more common in various media lately. I still have to look it up to be sure what it means, but it seems to be creeping across the Atlantic more firmly then a number of other uses that get proposed for such lists.

  23. @Dru: Gotcha has been around in the UK for quite some time. Famously in this headline during the Falklands War

  24. Yes, Rachel, I know. I remembered that one. But it was not with with the same meaning, and not as a noun.

  25. There's an OED entry for the word spelled either as gotcha or gotcher — which is fine for most British accents. The earlier of the two quotes is from a 1032 novel by Edgar Wallace

    The 'plane was nearing the centre of Cavendish Square, when it suddenly heeled over. Its tail went down and it fell with a crash in the centre of the garden which occupied the middle of the square. ‘Gotcher!’ It was Jiggs' triumphant voice.

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  27. a 1032 novel

    Sorry! The novel was published in 1932.

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  29. For US-to-UK WotY I nominate "safe space". Here's Ben Zimmer on the roots of the term, all of the citations from the US.

  30. For US-UK, I'd very much back up Anonymous's suggestion of mac and cheese (or possibly mac 'n' cheese). It's definitely a US term, and it's definitely beginning to push out the UK equivalent.

    It's also very much a phenomenon of the moment. This obviously isn't just a linguistic thing, but many more places are serving mac and cheese now than would have done so a couple of years ago. You can tell it's going mainstream when Pret a Manger jumps on the bandwagon - they started serving it in October 2014. (Though, to be fair, they still call it macaroni cheese).

  31. Season (as in TV season), instead of series.

  32. Another TV one - aired (instead of broadcast or shown)

  33. Seniors (as in the book iPhone for Seniors)


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