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2009 Word of the Year is “tweet”; Word of the Decade is “google”

January 8th, 2010 Comments Off

In its 20th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted “tweet” (noun, a short message sent via the Twitter.com service, and verb, the act of sending such a message) as the word of the year and “google” (a generic form of “Google,” meaning “to search the Internet) as its word of the decade.

Presiding at the Jan. 8 voting session in Baltimore were ADS Executive Secretary Allan Metcalf of MacMurray College, and Grant Barrett, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Barrett is also the editor of the column “Among the New Words” in the society’s quarterly academic journal American Speech.

“Both words are, in the end, products of the Information Age, where every person has the ability to satisfy curiosity and to broadcast to a select following, both via the Internet.” Barrett said. “I really thought blog would take the honors in the word of the decade category, but more people google than blog, don’t they? Plus, many people think ‘blog’ just sounds ugly. Maybe Google’s trademark lawyers would have preferred it, anyway.”

Download the press release: PDF, 205K.

Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item”—not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year, in the manner of Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

The vote is the longest-running such vote anywhere, the only one not tied to commercial interests, and the word-of-the-year event up to which all others lead. It is fully informed by the members’ expertise in the study of words, but it is far from a solemn occasion. Members in the 119-year-old organization include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, authors, editors, professors, university students, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining.

In a companion vote, sibling organization the American Name Society voted “Salish Sea” as Name of the Year for 2009 in its sixth annual name-of-the-year contest. The Salish Sea is the includes Washington State’s Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the San Juan Islands on the western coast of the United States and Canada.

Founded in 1889, the American Dialect Society is dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, and of other languages, or dialects of other languages, influencing it or influenced by it. ADS members are linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, historians, grammarians, academics, editors, writers, and independent scholars in the fields of English, foreign languages, and other disciplines. The society also publishes the quarterly journal American Speech.

The American Dialect Society is open to all persons worldwide who have an interest in language. Membership includes four annual issues of the society’s academic journal, one complete scholarly work per year from the Publication of the American Dialect Society series, and subscription to its email newsletter. There is a discounted membership rate for students at any academic level, who are especially encouraged to join.

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