Transatlantic words of the year?

I've had a few emails inquiring about the health of this blog. It's the same story as in some past years: the Autumn terms at the University are the worst for me—my heaviest teaching with constant essays to read and most of the admin work that needs to be done in my Director of Teaching and Learning role. (This should change next year, when one of my modules/courses is moving to spring and I shouldn't have the administrative role anymore.) So, my apologies for ignoring you. I promise to do better in Spring.

Because I have to get through a lot of essays this weekend, I'm going to heavily plagiari{s/z}e my past call for Word of the Year nominations:

It's that time of year again. Dictionary publishers are already starting to announce their words of 2018. I try to wait till we've actually seen the whole year before announcing mine, so it will be coming around New Year('s). If it comes at all.




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, click on the WotY label at the bottom of the post.

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 2018-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).

If there are no nominations that I deem worthy of this great award, then I may choose, for the first time since 2006, not to have a Word of the Year. But this year there is EXTRA MOTIVATION to nominate one. There are prizes! I have found myself in possession of an extra copy of Lane Greene's excellent new book Talk on the Wild Side, so IF I pick your nomination for US-to-UK WotY, you get the choice of receiving a copy of Lane's book or a copy of mine, The Prodigal Tongue (US trade paper edition). If I pick your nomination for UK-to-US WotY, you get the book that the other winner didn't pick. (I did it that way because I usually find I get more nominations in the UK-to-US category. So the US-to-UK nominations deserve extra extra motivation.) To be eligible for the prize, you must be the first to make the nomination and must do so in the comments to this blog post

When you nominate, make sure to subscribe to the comments for this post in order to ensure that I can get back to you to arrange the prize. If I think no nomination really fits my criteria for an 'of-the-year borrowing', I reserve the right not to name a WotY or to award the prize(s).


I look forward to receiving your thoughts on the transatlantic words of the year!

36 comments

  1. How about "showrunner" for US -> UK WOtY?

    As used to describe Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnell in their role in leading Doctor Who.

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    1. Thanks for this, Ellis. It peeked in UK news in 2017, probably due to Doctor Who, so I might need a little pushing from others (what say you, people?) to think of it as a word of 2018.

      (FWIW, 2016 was a big year for it in US News, but the television sense goes back to late 1980s.)

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    2. I meant ‘peaked’. Oops!

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    3. For US-to-UK, how about "Mainstream media" (or its abbreviation, MSM). You could make a plausible argument that that I'm a year late in nominating this, but I'd make a couple of points.

      Firstly, I think that the usage has changed over this year. In 2017, it was still being discussed as though it's notable that the term was being used here - see, for example, this article, the media talking about the media: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/aug/06/can-you-trust-mainstream-media. By 2018, the term is being used much less self-consciously, in contexts such as sport - see this, from the footballer Stan Collymore: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2018/dec/09/raheem-sterling-racism-football-stan-collymore

      Secondly, with all the caveats about its use as a source, I notice that the Wikipedia article on "Mainstream media" had no UK section until 2018.

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    4. Thanks, Simon. I had questions about its depth in US--it feels like a real Trump-era term to me. But the Corpus of Historical American English does show instances back to the 1980s. It really picks up in the 2000s, with the abbreviation coming in then. Will think about it!

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    5. I thought showrunner was a UK word? I've only heard it when looking at Doctor Who news and only recently here in the US.

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    6. Jim Holcomb: See Wikipedia's definition of "showrunner".

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    7. Indeed. I think I first heard the term in relation to Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it horrifies me to realise that ended fifteen years ago.

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    8. I heard showrunner for the first time last year and misremembered it as show leader when posting here on (TV) season.

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    9. @Lynne

      Right-winger nutters have been muttering about the "mainstream media" since at least the early George W Bush years. I wouldn't be surprised if it came from someone like Rush Limbaugh.

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    10. Simon K: Please contact me about your prize! (See 29 December blog post.)

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  2. Calexit

    https://www.cnbc.com/.../calexit-plan-to-divorce-california-from-us-is-getting-a-secon...

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    1. So maybe it's -exit blends in general that's moving around?

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    2. Starting with the one that didn't happen — Grexit.

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  3. I first heard "showrunner" in reference to Doctor Who, back when it was first revived (and I'm in the US). I actually thought it was a UK thing for awhile.

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  4. This is a depressing one, and similar in theme to some of those above, but I've really noticed "fake news" as a US to UK word this year.

    Obviously it got going in the states a year or two ago, and in the UK it was often used in the context of Trump. But what I've noticed in 2018 is that UK journalists/politicians/commentators have started using it as a term independent of any reference to Trump. I was genuinely surprised the first time I heard a UK politician use this term seriously (I think it was in 2018, but could have been the end of 2017).

    My timings could be off, but I've found it noticeable!

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  5. For UK-to-US, I nominate "whilst." While standard dictionaries still mark it as "chiefly British," it's on the rise among Smart Young Things here in the U.S. who think it sounds "cool" or "refined." Here's an example from The Baffler (published in New York), April 6, 2018: "You see, while the violence of financial capitalism and the ever-widening chasm of economic inequality might have something to do with why poor folks get themselves into a tizzy and take to the streets, the true catalyst is that they don’t feel respected whilst being systematically eliminated by the police state, they don’t feel respected whilst performing wage slavery." This humor piece in McSweeney's (based in San Francisco), from April 2017, is egalitarian: it uses "while" and "whilst" twice each. https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/the-honest-resume-of-a-hapless-young-writer And here's the singer Lana Del Rey -- born in Los Angeles, residing in Lake Placid, New York -- writing on Instagram in May 2017: "I had complex feelings about spending the weekend dancing whilst watching tensions w North Korea mount.” (Quoted in Rolling Stone: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/hear-lana-del-reys-somber-new-song-coachella-woodstock-in-my-mind-193789/)

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    1. More "whilst"s from Americans:
      Lisa Franklin, writer and comedian from New York: "people keep commenting on those comics whilst happily ignoring my jokes about The Flash." https://www.vulture.com/2018/09/follow-friday-lisa-franklin.html
      Halle Kiefer, "comedy writer out of Astoria, New York": "a surreally long, minutely detailed anecdote about a young Madonna auditioning with the Queen of Soul’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” whilst living in a crack den" https://www.vulture.com/2018/08/what-was-that-madonna-vmas-aretha-franklin-tribute.html

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  6. If I'd interested in the emergence of words that are used among teenagers and young adults that are catching on even with those in mid-life now. Examples: "same" instead of "me too", "triggered" when something elevates any emotion even if it's minor as compared to in a medical or mental health situation, "RIP" used to indicate something is negative no matter how minute ('John lost his pencil, RIP'.), and "lit" or "litty" as the new version of "cool". My teenagers say these all the time. I've actually come to use "same" often.

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  7. UK -> US Absolute Unit
    Via the meme started by The Museum of English Rural Life
    https://twitter.com/TheMERL/status/983341970318938112
    https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=today%205-y&geo=US&q=absolute%20unit

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    1. That meme was most certainly not started by the Museum of English Rural Life; that post drew attention because it referenced an existing meme.

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  8. US to UK, 'gaslight' and 'gas lighting'. I believe it comes from a play back in 1938 and has been in normal use in the US for a long time. Doubtless others will tell me I'm imagining it, but whether it's 2018 or even 2017, I've not become conscious of it's being used in the UK until the second half of this year.

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    1. https://www.theguardian.com/society/picture/2018/jul/17/clare-in-the-community-the-power-of-suggestion

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    2. I certainly remember gaslight the word from way, way back in Britain. Gaslight the phenomenon was already a thing of the past but the word was needed to describe it in in historical fiction and non-fiction.

      Besides, people used to speak of 'electric light' (perhaps they still do) even though there was no longer any need to distinguish it from gas light.

      The title Fanny by Gaslight sprang to mind. This was a 1940 novel turned into a popular 1944 film. Looking it up I see that there was a BBC adaptation of it in 1981. I may even have watched it. I know I've seen something set in gaslight — perhaps the BBC adaptation, perhaps one of the films.


      Grammatically, there's a difference between gas(-)light and electric light. That's in addition to the spelling: I don't recall reading electriclight.

      Gaslight is often UNCOUNTABLE — as in Fanny by .... We rarely if ever say 'It's lit by electric light.'

      When speaking of them as a device rather than an effect we tend to say the electric light, but not *the gaslight.

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    3. Ah! I hadn't seen Paul's link.

      No, that meaning of gaslighting is completely new to me. But given the popularity of the Ingrid Bergman film, the meaning could have been invented at any time in any English-speaking country that watched old films.

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    4. 'Gaslighting' has been used much more extensively in the UK in the last couple of years, in parallel with discussion about the new Coercive Control Bill, and about Rob Tichener's bullying and gaslighting of his wife Helen Archer (in the eponymous radio soap).
      I believe there is a modern version of this on social media, where observations about family life are often met with #didnthappen - a patronising response rather like telling a woman she's deluded because she thinks the gas light becomes dim.

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    5. I'm sure I've been aware of 'gaslighting' (as in the film) here in the UK long before this year

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    6. I hadn't met it before this year, because I had to look it up when I encountered it in various places within a few days of each other.

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    7. I still have't heard or read gaslighting or gaslighter in the Rob Tichener sense. (Well, not beyond the confines of this thread on this blog.)

      But this morning the word gaslighter was used in a comedy on BBC Radio Four. It's used to describe a character who is a grotesque figure of derision. Far from being sinister, he is impossibly deluded as to the rightness of his facts and opinions and impossibly deaf and blind to the concerns and views of others.

      The comedic starting point is that his ex-wife at some point in the past realised that he was making her feel inadequate, while he has yet to discover his own inadequacy. In a flashback to when they were still married, there's an argument in which he is making a ridiculous attempt to be controlling. Although ludicroulsly overconfident, he is no bully.

      The comedy has a narrator, who introduces the anti-hero as 'a gaslighter'. I wonder whether the scriptwriter — who wrote and and actually voices the narrative — intended the word in an inventive altered sense. Or has gaslighting come to mean simply 'wilfully or involuntarily stifling the personality of one's female partner'. If so, is this an exclusively British English shift?

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  9. The use of “through” has jarred in services of lessons and carols in the UK this year, as in “St John’s gospel, chapter 1, verses 1 through 14”. At last night’s school service, the six lesson read by pupils split evenly between “to” and “through”, whereas the teachers stuck to the traditional.

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  10. I agree. I know what 'x through y' means, but it still sounds alien. I find, 'from x to y' much easier to understand, particularly if 'y' is followed by 'inclusive'.

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  11. I came on here months ago to nominate 'side' as a US to UK import (as in 'side dishes' or even 'the vegetables that also go on your plate' after seeing it in an M&S ad, then decided it was too early and didn't, and then forgot all about it.

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    1. Although the OED describes in a chiefly AmE, it does have an entry

      23. Chiefly N. Amer. A relatively small portion of food served as an accompaniment to the main part of a meal or course, usually in a separate dish; a side dish, a side order. Also occasionally: an accompanying drink. Cf. on the side at Phrases 1f(k).

      The earliest quote is from a British author

      1847 Thackeray Vanity Fair (1848) xlii. 381 If those sides, or ontrys, as she calls 'em, weren't served yesterday, I'm d—d.

      The cross-reference to on the side describes it not as chiefly but as originally American. It's divided into four senses, all of which seem perfectly familiar to me as a BrE speaker.

      (k) orig. U.S. on the side.
      (i) In addition to and served separately from the main part of a meal or course; as a side dish.
      (ii) In addition to one's main job or business activity; as a supplementary source of income; as a sideline.
      (iii) In addition to a main activity, course of action, etc.; spec. in a clandestine or surreptitious way; secretly; illicitly.
      (iv) With reference to a sexual partner or relationship: in addition to one's spouse or partner; outside of one's marriage or romantic relationship.

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  12. Some pundit picked gaslight as word of the year in 2017 in the US, Which I found weird because I've known it since the mid-1970s from the 1944 US film and the 1940 UK film before that.

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  13. US to UK
    So I'd like to nominate "So..." when used as a meaningless introduction to a sentence.
    So I first came across this a couple of years ago from the mouths of Americans.
    I've noticed it occasionally since, but this year it has really taken off over here, and I'm hearing it everywhere.

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    1. As an American I was blissfully unaware of this verbal tic until getting a dose of it from the Brits on this blog. Now I've become excruciatingly conscious of American correspondents using it repeatedly on my public radio station in NYC. And speaking of American radio correspondents, I've also come over to the British habit of the host or presenter thanking correspondents for their report and cutting them off -- no need to broadcast the correspondent thanking the thanker. Whenever I listen to the BBC News Hour on my local public radio station I'm always relieved when Razia Iqbal thanks fellow correspondents and heads straightaway into the next story. God knows public radio here would pick up an additional 10 usable minutes a day if we didn't need to hear correspondents returning all those thanks.

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