In its annual vote at its annual meeting, the American Dialect Society on

Jan. 3 chose as word of the year 1996 "mom" as in "soccer mom," the newly

significant type of voter courted by both candidates during the presidential

campaign. That phrase spun off other designations such as "minivan mom" and

"waitress mom."

"Mom" received 25 votes in the final show of hands, compared with 16 for

the runner-up "alpha geek," the person in a workplace who knows most about


Every year since 1990 the Society has voted on words that are most

representative of the year gone by. The chosen words or phrases do not have

to be brand new, since few completely new words attain wide currency, but

they do have to be newly prominent or distinctive. The election is serious,

based on members' tracking of new words during the year, but it is far from

solemn, since many of the words represent fads and foibles of the year. Some

less well known words are chosen because they are ingenious inventions.

Before the vote on Word (or Phrase) of the Year, members chose winners in

particular categories. These were the other 1996 choices:

1. Most Useful: "dot" (18 votes) used instead of "period" in e-mail and URL

addresses. Runner-up was "d'oh" (12) recognition of one's stupidity (from the

Simpsons TV show).

2. Most Unnecessary: "Mexican hustle" (20) another name for the Macarena

(and it's not Mexican). Runner-ups were "bridge to the 21st century" (13) the

putative work of presidential candidate Bill Clinton, and "uber-" (6) prefix

substituting for "super" as in "ubermom."

3. Most Controversial: "Ebonics" (unanimous) African-American vernacular

English. Even among ADS members "Ebonics" was controversial, as they found

themselves disagreeing on the definition. Does "Ebonics" imply that it is a

separate language?

4. Most Likely to Succeed: "drive-by" (25) designating brief visits or

hospital stays as in "drive-by labor," "drive-by mastectomy," "drive-by

viewing." Runner-up "nail" (7) to accomplish perfectly, as an Olympic feat,

election victory, or movie role.

5. Most Outrageous: "toy soldier" (22) land mine (in the former

Yugoslavia). Runner-ups "stalkerazzi" (4) photographers (paparazzi) who stalk

their prey, and "roofie" (3) Rohypnol, the date-rape drug.

6. Most Original: "prebuttal" (18) preemptive rebuttal; quick response to a

political adversary. Runner-up: "alpha geek" (14).

7. Most Euphemistic: tie (18 each) between "urban camping" living homeless

in a city, and "food insecure" said of a country where people are starving.

8. Word of the Year, first vote: "mom" 7, "alpha geek" 7, "drive-by" 7, "go

there" to mention a topic 6, "dot" 5, "all that" 5, "Macarena" 2,

"stalkerazzi" 2, "nail" 1, "prebuttal" 1, "una" as in Unabomber 1.

Second vote: "mom" 12, "alpha geek" 9, "drive-by" 7, "go there" 7, "dot" 4,

"all that" 3.

Third vote: "mom" 17, "alpha geek" 10, "drive-by" 9, "go there" 6.

Final vote: "mom" 25, "alpha geek" 16.

The vote for Word of the Year 1997 will take place at the Society's annual

meeting in New York City at the Grand Hyatt Hotel January 8-10, 1998.

Nominations should be sent to the chair of the Society's Committee on New

Words, Professor Wayne Glowka, Dept. of English and Speech, Georgia College

and State University, Milledgeville GA 31061; e-mail