Date: Fri, 22 Dec 1995 10:15:10 +0100


Subject: Re: WOTY from David Barnhart

Is the WOTY one that's hit it big, or one that's new and hit it big.

Because I know gaydar from, hmm, fourteen years ago.


Good question, Beth, and one we need to thrash around a bit, considering

the sidebars I've been getting about my own personal private list not being

really new words. Since I've been announcing words of the year on our

local radio station and occasionally in the regional press, I've always

chosen a combination of relative newness and recent prominence, in addition

to trying to pick words that would be entertaining as well as of some

significance, in terms of a discussion.

The Algeos and I seem to agree that World Wide Web fits these criteria, in

addition to John and Adele's more rigid constraint that the word not

appear, in the current sense, in the source dictionaries. I'm a little

looser on this last constraint, but I do agree.

My own Lexis/Nexis search on political correctness/politically correct

turned up over 31,500 hits in the "current news" files. That's a striking

increase in frequency over previous years--but the word, it seems to me, is

not just mellowing out and developing some senses not even recorded by

David Barnhart (come hear my talk Saturday), but that it is also declining

in prominence, which of course simply reflects the fact that information

content is inversely proportional to frequency of occurrence (a nice rule,

like my other favorite, a version of that old high school bio saw, ontology

recapitulates philology).

But I also want to raise the issue of why pick a WOTY? For me, the reason

is to educate the public. Consequently, a rhetorical consideration of

audience interests and needs always comes into play when I make up a list,

checking it twice, trying to find out who's ... oops, wrong holiday. (I

think I thought of bah, humbug in my earlier post because my winter holiday

seems to have become MLA this year--sure hope it doesn't turn into a major

world religion or ethnic celebration.) So I don't pick words that are very

obscure or not likely to cause much of a cultural stir, no matter how

interesting they may be for us professional types.

Any other thoughts on this?



Dennis Baron debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

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