Date: Tue, 10 Jan 1995 14:05:58 -0600


Subject: Re: More Responses

In reply to Natalie's justifiable concern, let me defend Allan's press

release and raise some questions. Allan does say very candidly of cyber,

"It is not brand new, but newly prominent."

And he adds,

" "Morph," meaning to change form, is also not a brand-new word but was

similarly prominent in 1994. "

I'm not suggesting that the readers of Words-L don't know how to read. I

know in fact that they read quite well. But we have here an instance where

what is said and what is read are often at odds. When I wrote my WOTY

piece for the Chicago Tribune, the op-ed editor called me and suggested

only one change: what I had called the word of the year was actually a

phrase. She therefore wanted to call it "phrase of the year" (we had the

same problem with information superhighway in 1993). I had dealt with this

problem in my second graph (to use the newspaper lingo), but the editor

felt that was too late to prevent misunderstanding. So word of the year,

which is undeniably a snappier phrase, was replaced by phrase of the year,

which I find distinctly flabby. Editors always win, especially if they

authorize the checks.

Is what is happening with Allan's press release is that the qualification

comes too late to do any good? Are readers so conditioned by the

year-in-review pieces that they expect everything to fall within the

twelvemonth? (Did anyone notice that the Weather Channel is doing the

year's best storms in review as well?) Are they so conditioned by

advertising that they expect everything to be new and improved? By Detroit

that they expect a totally redesigned word each year? Hey, I think it's

time to go trade in our words for newer models. And maybe we should

consider those leasing options instead of an outright purchase. I want my

new words to have dual air bags and abs brakes (well, I guess I flogged

that analogy to death).

Anyway, here are my questions:

1. what do we mean by new words? in terms of our contest, and in terms of

the history of language, new words exist on a continuum--few words will

become prominent enough at the moment of their origin to become WOTY. It

takes time. You can't throw in a word in December and expect it to win the

prize (like they do with the new movies).

2. what reactions do we want from our audience (here I'm writing like an

old comp director, which is of course my other job)? I think the words-l

responses are valid, in a way, and we need to write our press releases to

avoid getting those kinds of negative reactions. But maybe what we need is

more than just a list, if the words are pre-known (on the analogy of

pre-driven, previously viewed, and preborn), or so new as to be inscrutable

(as the words in some of the other categories). So we can show word people

words they are familiar with and give them a reason to feel that such words

deserve the WOTY/POTY prize. And maybe, while we're at it, we should

design a statuette (or at least a computer icon) to go with the prize.


Dennis (contract with America) B


Dennis Baron debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Department of English 217-333-2392

University of Illinois fax: 217-333-4321

608 South Wright Street home: 217-384-1683

Urbana, Illinois 61801