Date: Mon, 12 Jan 1998 11:00:38 -0600 From: Dennis Baron 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= history. Would "to office" win as this year's most useful= verb in the American Dialect Society's "Word of the Year"= election? Would "exit bag" (a bag placed over one's head to= commit 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= with suspense. But it was filled with lively debate and= a little home-grown hype, not to mention a fair amount of= corduroy and tweed. The final 1997 word of the year: "millennium-bug"= (meaning the programming quirk that makes some computers unable= to 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= useful" new word of 1996, and "ebonics" (a term for African American vernacular English) was named "most= controversial." Since 1990, several dozen word wonks have sneaked= out of their seminars on morphology and accentology at the= annual Linguistic Society of America convention to have a= good 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= impact") 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"= (1862); "bloomers" (1851); "bluejeans" (1855); "skyscraper"= (1883); "credit card" (1888!); "jazz" (1913); "T-shirt"= (1919); "multicultural" (1941); and "Ms." (1952). These words are spun by writers, talkers, kids on= the 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= Rather 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= new 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= year's word-of-the-year competition. Cyberlingo, says= Branwyn, "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= Wired 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= with 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= missing the coinage of a new expression such as "being= Dilberted" (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= necessarily, 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 dictionary." "We can't keep track of them all," adds Barnhart,= author of "The Barnhart Dictionary Companion." "There are too= many 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= digital versatile disc, the optical disc technology= expected to replace CDs. Most Outrageous: Florida Flambe: Fire caused by= Florida's 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= =20 Dennis Baron, Acting Head phone: 217-333-2390 Department of English fax: 217-333-4321 University of Illinois email: debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] 608 S. Wright Street Urbana, IL 61801