In its 19th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted “bailout” as the word of the year. In the specific sense used most frequently in 2008, bailout refers to the rescue by the government of companies on the brink of failure, including large players in the banking industry.
Presiding at the Jan. 9 voting session were ADS Executive Secretary Allan Metcalf of MacMurray College, and Grant Barrett, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society and co-host of the nationwide public radio show A Way with Words. Barrett is also the incoming editor of the column “Among the New Words” in the society’s quarterly academic journal American Speech.
“When you vote for bailout, I guess you’re really voting for ‘hope’ and ‘change,’ too,” Barrett said. “Though you’d think a room full of pointy-headed intellectuals could come up with something more exciting.”
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 “Barack Hussein Obama” as Name of the Year for 2008 in its fifth annual name-of-the-year contest.
AMERICAN DIALECT SOCIETY VOTE TALLIES
The number after each nomination is the number of votes it received. Numbers separated by slash marks indicate a run-off. Voting totals are for each category might not be identical because the number of voters might have changed for each category.
WORD OF THE YEAR WINNER: bailout, the rescue by the government of companies on the brink of failure, including large players in the banking industry. 37/74
Other nominees for word of the year:
Barack Obama: Both names as combining forms in a large number of new words. A combining form is a word or part of a word that can be used as the root or basis of other words. 28/43
lipstick on a pig: An adornment of something that can’t be made pretty. 16
change: Not so much a buzzword as political wallpaper, background noise, and ambient energy rolled into one. The idea of discarding old ideas and methods seemed to underlie everything said by national political candidates. 14
shovel-ready: Used to describe infrastructure projects that can be started quickly when funds become available 5
game-changer: In business and politics, something that alters the nature of a marketplace, relationship, or campaign. From sports ‘something that changes a match or contest.’ 2
WINNER: Barack Obama: Both names as combining forms. 41/72
text(ing), in driving while texting (DWT), the sending of text messages while conducting and automobile, and textwalker, a person who texts while walking. 38/34
bailout: The rescue by the government of companies on the brink of failure, including large players in the banking industry. 14
Palinesque: Pertaining to a person who has extended themselves beyond their expertise, thereby bringing ridicule upon a serious matter. 11
WINNER: recombobulation area: An area at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee in which passengers that have just passed through security screening can get their clothes and belongings back in order. 94
long photo: A video of 90 seconds or less. Used by the photo-sharing web site Flickr. 5
skadoosh: A nonsense interjection popularized by Jack Black in the movie Kung Fu Panda. 3
rofflenui: A blended New Zealand English-Maori word that means “rolling on the floor laughing a lot.” 1
WINNER: moofing: From “mobile out of office,” meaning working on the go with a laptop and cell phone. Created by a PR firm. 35/53
First Dude: The husband of a governor or president. 36/43
bromance: A very close relationship between two heterosexual men. 28
WINNER: terrorist fist jab: A knuckle-to-knuckle fist bump, or “dap,” traditionally performed between two black people as a sign of friendship, celebration or agreement. It was called the “terrorist fist jab” by the newscaster E. D. Hill, formerly of Fox News. 88
body-snarking: Posting pictures and commenting negatively on the bodies of the people in them. 10
fish pedicure: A cosmetic procedure in which fish eat the dead skin off the feet. 9
baby mama: From a man’s point of view, a woman to whom he is not married and who is the mother of his child. 2
WINNER: scooping technician: A person whose job it is to pick up dog poop. 66
age-doping: The falsification of records to show that an athlete meets participation requirements for a sporting event. 32
thought showers: Coined by a British city council because the synonym “brainstorming” was said to be offensive to epileptics. 11
—Most Likely to Succeed—
WINNER: shovel-ready: Used to describe infrastructure projects that can be started quickly when funds become available. 47/76
Tw-, tweet-, twitt- Combining forms all connoting a relationship to Twitter, a free nano-blogging service. 27/19
[name] the [job]: Joe the Plumber, etc. 12
Phelpsian: Excellent in the fashion of swimmer Michael Phelps, who won eight medals and set seven world records in the 2008 Summer Olympics. 6
-licious: A suffix which connotes desirability or attractiveness of the thing whose name it is combined with. 1
—Least Likely to Succeed—
WINNER: PUMA: An acronym for Party Unity My Ass, used by Democrats who were disaffected after Hillary Clinton failed to secure a sufficient number of delegates. It was later said to stand for Party Unity Means Action. 88
nuke the fridge: To ruin a movie franchise through the arrogance of a successful producer or director. 14
-cation: Suffix connotating “vacation” in blends like mancation, staycation, hurrication, evacucation. 1
—NEW CATEGORY: ELECTION-RELATED WORDS—
WINNER: maverick: A person who is beholden to no one. Widely used by the Republican Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates, John McCain and Sarah Palin. Also in the adjectival form mavericky, used by Tina Fey portraying Palin on Saturday Night Live. 73
lipstick on a pig: An adornment of something that can’t be made pretty. 37
hopey-changey: Derisive epithet incorporating Obama’s two main buzzwords (also dopey hopey changey). 8
hockey mom: A mother who spends a great deal of time and money aggressively abetting her children’s interest in the sport of hockey. 2
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.