Date: Mon, 12 Jan 1998 11:00:38 -0600

From: Dennis Baron debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UIUC.EDU

Subject: woty makes washington post

Today's Washington Post carries the woty story:

Coming To Terms With 1997

Linguists Pick the Words Minted for the Year=20

By Gayle Worland

Special to The Washington Post

Monday, January 12, 1998; Page B01=20

NEW YORK=97It wasn't the Oscars, or the Tonys. There

wasn't a sequin in sight. Yet people from across=

the country

were gathered here Friday to vote on -- and=

celebrate -- one

of America's great cultural achievements of 1997:

A word.

Not just any word, but the single expression that=

sums up the

year just past or epitomizes a trend or is expected=

to become

part of the American vernacular. Or a term that is=

just so

irresistibly clever that it deserves its place in=


Would "to office" win as this year's most useful=

verb in the

American Dialect Society's "Word of the Year"=


Would "exit bag" (a bag placed over one's head to=


suicide) clinch the honors for "most outrageous"=

new term?

As the supporters of "millennium-bug" squared off=

against the

contingent pushing "the bomb" (defined as "the=

greatest"), the

Grand Hyatt meeting room was not exactly atwitter=


suspense. But it was filled with lively debate and=

a little

home-grown hype, not to mention a fair amount of=


and tweed.

The final 1997 word of the year: "millennium-bug"=

(meaning the

programming quirk that makes some computers unable=


register the year 2000).

The 1996 linguistic laurel went to the term "soccer=

mom" -- the

hard-working, upscale mother of the 1990s courted=

by minivan

manufacturers and presidential candidates, who=

recognized her

as a demographic force that should not be ignored.=

"Dot" (used

instead of "period" when pronouncing e-mail and Web

addresses, as in "dot-com") was declared the "most=


new word of 1996, and "ebonics" (a term for African

American vernacular English) was named "most=


Since 1990, several dozen word wonks have sneaked=

out of

their seminars on morphology and accentology at the=


Linguistic Society of America convention to have a=


chuckle over the terms that Americans just can't=

stop inventing

-- on the streets, in the media, at the water=

cooler -- almost

anywhere you can think of.

"Playing with language is a natural human=

characteristic," says

Allan A. Metcalf, executive secretary of the=

American Dialect

Society and an English professor at MacMurray=

College in

Illinois. By its very nature, any language -- in=

any culture --

cannot remain static. "People don't inherit=

language," Metcalf

says. "They learn it by interpreting and=

misinterpreting what

they hear."

Americans love the elasticity of their language,=

which converts

nouns into verbs with ease ("an impact" becomes "to=


and can turn "bad" into something good. Simple=

words have

come to symbolize whole currents in American=

culture, as

Metcalf and co-author David K. Barnhart pointed out=

in their

1997 book, "America in So Many Words." There's

"thanksgiving," for example, which dates back to=

1621; but

also "punk" (1618); "apple pie" (1629); "greenback"=


"bloomers" (1851); "bluejeans" (1855); "skyscraper"=


"credit card" (1888!); "jazz" (1913); "T-shirt"=


"multicultural" (1941); and "Ms." (1952).

These words are spun by writers, talkers, kids on=


playground. But it's the linguists and=

dictionary-makers who

comb them out of magazines and newspapers, pour=

them into

databases, and jump out of their chairs when Dan=


brings a newly coined expression like "Y2K" (Year=

2000) into

"standard usage" by employing it on the "CBS=

Evening News."

Today, some of the newest words ricochet through=

the Internet

with high-baud speed. "You're faced with all these=


experiences and you don't know what to call=

things," explains

Gareth Branwyn of Arlington, the author of "Jargon=

Watch: A

Pocket Dictionary for the Jitterati," who was asked=

to nominate

new words he found on the World Wide Web for this=


word-of-the-year competition. Cyberlingo, says=


"errs on the side of the frivolous, the fast and=

the fun." A good

new word "is like a good joke," he says. "You=

remember it and

tell it to someone else, and they tell it to=

someone else. With the

Internet, there's a tremendous acceleration of the=

ability of

these terms to propagate."

Take "alpha-geek," a 1996 word of the year=

runner-up that

first appeared in Branwyn's Jargon Watch column in=


magazine. Every office has one: The alpha-geek is=

the leader of

the PC pack who can always figure out the problem=

with your

&^%*[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] computer.

The vocabulary that's taken root online also tells=

us something

about that subculture, Branwyn ways. To contrast it=


cyberspace, the physical world is described as IRL=

(in real

life)." To escape the glow of the monitor and see a=

friend in the

flesh, one arranges "face time," or meets "F2F."

Like meteorologists who don't want to be wrong=

about the

next big storm, "jargonnauts" such as Branwyn dread=


the coinage of a new expression such as "being=


(abused by the boss) or "prairie-dogging" (the=

practice of

popping one's head above one's office cubicle).

So will "millennium-bug" go down in history? Not=


says Metcalf. "New words are made up all the time=

-- and

99.999 percent of them don't catch on. I think it=

takes about

40 years to know if a word is really going to=

establish in the


"We can't keep track of them all," adds Barnhart,=

author of

"The Barnhart Dictionary Companion." "There are too=


damn people out there using the language."

Winning Words=20

Other 1997 selections:

Most Useful: -razzi (the suffix): Aggressive=

pursuers, as in

stalkerazzi; Duh: Expression of stupidity.

Most Unnecessary: Heaven-o: Replacement for=

"Hello," used

in Kingsville, Tex., to avoid the presumed=

invocation of "Hell."

Most Likely to Succeed: DVD: Abbreviation for=


versatile disc, the optical disc technology=

expected to replace


Most Outrageous: Florida Flambe: Fire caused by=


aging electric chair, "Old Sparky."

Brand Spanking New: El Nonsense: Illogical=

association of

some event with El Nino.

Most Euphemistic: Exit bag: Bag placed over one's=

head to

commit suicide.=20

=A9 Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company=


Dennis Baron, Acting Head italic phone: /italic 217-333-2390

Department of English italic fax: /italic 217-333-4321

University of Illinois italic email: /italic debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

608 S. Wright Street

Urbana, IL 61801