Geeks Inherit The Earth

I’ve always wondered a little why Oxford Dictionaries unveils its word of the year in November, when there is still quite a bit of the year left to run. But now I can see the advantage of going first. You become the word of the year by which all other words of the year are judged, and you also ensure that other esteemed language bodies have to choose something else.

I think that since Selfie was unveiled as the Oxford choice, it has become established in people’s minds as the definitive word of the year, a status of course helped by Barack Obama et al. Nevertheless, further nominations have followed, and the latest two are interesting in different ways.

Collins dictionary has gone with Geek. I think this choice has been made for reasons more to do with the English language itself, rather than as a reflection of what society has been doing for the last 12 months. The main reason behind Geek’s prominence in Collins’ eyes is that its definition has now been radically changed over the last 12 months. No longer a pejorative term which almost demeans those to whom it is applied, it is now defined as “a person who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a specific subject”. The addition of further terms such as Geekery and Geekdom simply sealed the deal.

It’s interesting reasoning but I wonder whether geek really has completely shaken off its past. The people I know in technology still describe themselves geeks in a tongue in cheek, slightly embarrassed way, rather than in a way that seems to wear it like a badge of honour. And in much the same way that Swedish nerds campaigned for a similar redefinition last year, I feel that this kind of alteration loses something of the genuine meaning of the word. has taken an alternative approach, going for a word that is neither new nor altered during the year, but has instead summed up the overriding themes 0f 2013. That choice is Privacy, and in an interesting analysis it cites Edward Snowden and Google among others that have contributed to privacy’s prevalence over the year.

If you are going down this route for your selections, then I think this one fits the bill pretty well as it certainly focuses on issues that have been strongly in people’s minds during 2013. I think it is certainly a more suitable choice than Merriam-Webster’s recent selection of Science.

So we now have Selfie, Bitcoin, Science, Geek and Privacy all rejoicing as words of the year. And Phubbing of course. I still prefer that above all others.

A Year Full of Bluster

I find myself at odds with following the announcement of its word of the year. The online dictionary has gone with Bluster as its word of 2012.

The choice is unexpected, as was Tergiversate in 2011. But it’s not that I mind the word that much, or the reasons for choosing it. I always prefer a word of the year to be something coined in that year, but made it clear last year that this was not a prerequisite in its selection procedure, so I will let it go.

The reasons for the selection are cogent – it has been a year of political bluster across the globe and meteorological bluster from the skies. So it is a neat word which ties together the controllable and uncontrollable elements of the last 12 months.

But what I really disagree with was the editors’ assertion that this has been a year which has been “lexicographically quiet”, to borrow their phrase. As the entries in Wordability should have demonstrated, 2012 has been anything but. Not only have there been some entertaining words coined in 2012, confirming the delicious flexibility of the language, but linguistic issues have also sparked significant debates, showing that language matters to people to a high degree. Just look back on Misogyny, Gay Marriage or Swedish Pronouns to see what I mean. It has been a year when issues of meaning and definition have hit the mainstream media.

So maybe Bluster is a good choice after all. It’s just that the bluster has extended to semantic matters as well.