Oxford Dictionaries has announced its word of the year, and it is a true reflection of British society over the last 12 months.
“Squeezed Middle”, a term coined by Labour leader Ed Miliband to describe the large portion of society most affected by Government cuts and the economic downturn, has won the accolade in both the UK and the USA, which normally selects a different word.
Some press reports have complained about the fact that the winner of word of the year is a phrase, but compound nouns have distinct meanings and therefore act like words, so that argument is a red herring. Instead, we should focus on just what this year’s winner and runners-up say about the state of the country today.
Wordability has frequently mentioned that new words and usages come from all sides, with technology a particularly rich vein, though music, sport and television also contribute their fair share of neologisms.
But squeezed middle comes straight from news reporting and shows that this year, minds have been concentrated on serious issues. This is reflected by the other words on the shortlist, which are other brand new words, new usages of existing words or words gaining particular prominence: Arab Spring, describing events in the Middle East earlier this year; Occupy, the movement to occupy prominent buildings as a protest over perceived economic injustice; Phone Hacking, the much-publicised practice of intercepting people’s phone messages; Hacktivism, gaining unauthorised access to networks for political reasons; and Sodcasting, the only non-newsworthy item on the shortlist and the act of playing music through your mobile phone in a public place.
What this list shows us is the power of the media and the way that when particular stories start to grow and gain coverage, they have to have a neat word to encapsulate their essence. Coining the right one can help to define the argument and create a perception in people’s minds about what the story is about. The internet and 24-hour news need these words and then become the perfect vehicles for disseminating this.
As well as really getting to the heart of what the economic crisis means for millions of people, I think there is another reason why squeezed middle works so well. It sounds like it always existed. When you hear the phrase, you assume it is a demographic description that has been used for eternity, rather than a phrase of the times, and this slightly timeless quality probably explains why it has stuck.
As for my word of the year? Well, since this blog has only been operating for a short time, I can suggest Doing a Tevez, Shovel-Ready and Haircut as possible candidates. But of course, there can only be one winner, and I look forward to seeing it in every dictionary next year. For me, the word of the year for 2011 is of course Wordability.