Date: Tue, 19 Dec 1995 13:35:21 +0100
From: debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UIUC.EDU
Here's my personal list, finally.
The Word of the Year
by Dennis Baron
It's time again to announce the word of the year, and one of the finalists
for 1995 is "hey." Hey is fast becoming the universal informal greeting.
Like aloha and shalom, hey can mean both hello and good-bye. It's used
more than "hi," and a lot more than "hello." The exclamation "hey" goes
back to the twelfth century. Medieval children often said "Hey!" to which
their middle-aged parents replied, "Hey is for horses." "Hey" as a
greeting made its dictionary debut less than five years ago. It may be a
shortened form of "Hey, what's happenin'?" My children say "hey" all the
time, both coming and going. And their medieval parents still reply, "Hey
is for horses."
Another finalist for word of the year is "cool," which is actually
pronounced "kul." Like hey, cool is popular among the young, who act like
they invented it. In fact cool first became hot back in the 1950s, as part
of the lingo of jazz musicians. Like those wide ties in my closet, "cool"
is back in style, and if you want to sound like a nineties type of person,
you might want to trot out a "Hey, cool," every once in a while-but please,
leave those wide ties on the rack.
Speaking of a nineties type of person, the turning of the year has
turned public attention toward the millennium, and while this year the word
"millennium" rates the second runner-up spot, in a few short years it
should move up to word of the year in its own right. Whether the
millennium brings the destruction of civilization or just one heck of a big
New Year's bash, everybody is looking forward to Century 21. The most
popular resorts are already booked solid for Dec. 31, 1999, and the
pessimists who think there won't be a January 1, 2000, have already picked
out the best trees to wait in, so they can be closer to heaven when the end
comes. Unfortunately, there's some disagreement over just when the next
thousand years will start. Purists assure us that the millennium won't
turn until Dec. 31, 2000, which is why Arthur C. Clarke called his
apocalyptic space odyssey "2001." That gives us more time to plan the
party, and we'll get a whole extra year to use the word "millennium." But
if you're going to spend that bonus year sitting up in a tree, I can see
why a more precise method of dating things would be useful to you.
Runner-up for word of the year is "Windows95." The Microsoft
Corporation spent a lot of money to ensure that Windows95 would be the best
word of 1995, but unlike the Beatles CD, Windows95 didn't "walk out the
door." Those who did buy it were soon jamming help lines to find out how
to make the new operating system live up to its promise. Even if it was
initially disappointing, Windows95 is expected to cause a major shift in
how we use computers, though Microsoft may have to wait for Windows2000 to
meet its sales quota.
And now it's time to announce the word of the year for 1995,
actually a phrase: "the World Wide Web." The World Wide Web-the Web, for
short-is a vast collection of computer sites, a virtual reality somewhere
in cyberspace. It's called the Web because everything on it is connected.
Just click on a picture or some highlighted text, and suddenly you're
someplace else. Not only can you explore the Web, but anyone with a
computer and a modem can create their own Web "home page." Businesses are
using home pages to advertise their wares. Schools and museums have home
pages. Even Congress and NASA have home pages-but don't try to use them if
the government happens to be shut down for a budget crisis: webmasters, who
maintain home pages, are considered nonessential personnel.
Web home pages are popular with individuals as well. You can put
your picture on your home page, or a picture of your dog. You can put your
diary, or your resume, or your favorite recipes on it. I'm not sure why
anyone would want one, but personal home pages have become so popular that
people without them are starting to feel left out. I don't have a home
page, but I'm on the Web. Someone put my picture on their Web page.
Someone else put an article I wrote on the Web. I found both by accident,
while browsing the Web. You may be on the Web too, without knowing it.
Someone out there is putting us all on the Web, one by one, a virtual
spider collecting us for her own inscrutable ends, or perhaps just a
Microsoft employee. The Web is becoming as inevitable as the millennium.
It has earned its place as the word of the year.
Dennis Baron debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]uiuc.edu
Department of English office: 217-333-2392
University of Illinois fax: 217-333-4321
608 South Wright Street home: 217-384-1683
Urbana, Illinois 61801