We could use some new ‘top words’ this year
Jan. 18, 2010
by Ivan Raconteur

As one who is fascinated by words, and uses them as the tools of the trade, I always look forward to the annual top words lists.

Some lists focus on the best new words, while others are based on the most often used words, or those that people look up the most.

I must confess that a review of the best words of 2009 does not inspire much enthusiasm. It is a depressing sort of a list this time around.

The top word for 2009 according to some sources, including the Global Language Monitor, is “Twitter.”

Yawn. I am not a fan, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Hemingway spent his career paring down the language to the bare essentials, but in his hands, it was still art. Trying to reduce all of our correspondence to 140 characters, however, is insane, and is a trend likely to produce a nation of idiots.

Equally depressing is “distracted driving,” which is the choice for word of the year from Webster’s New World Dictionary. The fact that this term is so popular illustrates the fact that while the cars are getting smarter, the drivers are getting dumber.

The New Oxford American Dictionary puts “unfriend” at the top of the list. The word means to delete someone as a friend on Facebook or other networking site.

Rejection is always difficult, but it is worse, somehow, to think that we need a quick and easy word to describe it, as if our self-worth can be deleted by a single keystroke. The cyber world is indeed a jungle.

Merriam-Webster went old-school, and selected “admonish” as the top word, based on the number of times people looked up the word on its online dictionary. Apparently, a flurry of such inquiries took place after Rep. Joe Wilson interrupted the president’s speech to a joint session of congress.

The rest of Merriam-Webster’s list was equally dismal, including such entries as “furlough” made popular by the number of unpaid furloughs to which workers were subjected as a result of the recession.

“Pandemic” was also on the list, popularized by the H1N1 situation which provides some sobering insight into what the future might hold, and “philanderer” scored high, thanks to the actions of Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (among others).

A couple of technology-related words that made The New Oxford American Dictionary’s list, and which show at least a grain of creativity are “sexting,” which refers to sending sexually-explicit text messages or photos via a mobile phone, and “intexicated,” which refers to the state of distracted driving caused by sending text messages while behind the wheel.

Not surprisingly, many of the top words were related to the economic mess that has dominated the past couple of years.

The Global Language Monitor’s list includes such regrettable entries as stimulus, deficit, outrage (at bonuses paid to bailed-out executives), unemployed, and foreclosure. These are words we have all heard far too often lately.

The Monitor also compiled a list of the top phrases, including one of the biggest stinkers of them all, “too large to fail.”

The list of top words for the decade just ended was equally depressing, and I don’t even feel like looking at those tired old words again.

As we begin a new year, and, in fact, a new decade, I wish for us all a list of new words that will be a bit more positive and a bit more optimistic.

I am weary of corruption, and divisiveness, pettiness and greed. I am convinced that there is a lot of good in the world, and I would like to hear more about that for a change.

I don’t really care which celebrity is cheating on his or her partner, or who has fallen off the wagon (again). I don’t care about fatheads who are scamming police to try to get on some reality show, and I am not interested in hearing about criminals being treated as if they were victims.

I would rather hear a few stories about honest people quietly going about their business and doing good things in their communities. I realize that stories like that don’t seem to do much for ratings, and they might not be glamorous. But they would sure make a refreshing change.

Elvis Costello once asked the musical question, “what’s so funny ‘bout peace, love, and understanding?” and some of us are still wondering.

It would be nice to see more words like those on the top words list by the time this year comes to an end.