The Top Words of 2012

And so the time has come for Wordability to reveal its word of the year. But I’m not quite going to do that. Because I don’t think that one word does justice to 2012. So in total, Wordability has five words of the year. And a new book – but more of that anon.

The danger of picking one word is that it only tells some of the story. The Oxford Dictionary choice of Omnishambles absolutely gives us a word that says a great deal about 2012. But what about the Olympics, and that incredible feeling that careered across Britain throughout that glorious summer. To ignore that is to miss a part of the year.

And should we go with a new word or something old which has resurfaced? Wordability has shown over the year that brand new words and redefinitions of existing words are equally important when it comes to semantic change in the English language. So I think it is important to include both.

So without further faffing, here are my top five words of the year:

New Words of the Year

Mother Flame: The journey of the Olympic Flame started the Olympics for real for most people in the UK, and the crowds who lined the streets throughout the country to see it were surprisingly large and enthusiastic. The whole process spawned a raft of new words associated with the procession.  Mother Flame, the original flame travelling with the torch and used to relight it when it went out, was my favourite.

Eastwooding: An odd choice? Yes. Eastwooding as a word was never destined to last more than five minutes. And yet what a five minutes. Spawned by Clint Eastwood’s extraordinary empty chair conversation with Barack Obama at the Republican Convention, Eastwooding became a social phenomenon as people raced to share photographs of themselves interacting with unoccupied items of furniture. I have chosen it as a word of the year because in many ways it is the quintessential demonstration of how a new word can arrive and thrive in our interconnected world. And then, just as quickly, fall off a cliff.

Gangnam Style: The music sensation of the year and a phrase that has entered the language. You only have to hear of anybody dancing Gangnam Style to know what kind of performance they are putting in, and plenty of famous people have been queuing up for their five minutes of strutting their horse-like stuff.

 Re-emergence of the Year

There were two contenders for this. Omnishambles, as we know, curried favour elsewhere. But I have plumped for Ineptocracy, a term for a form of government in which those utterly incapable seem to grab the top jobs. Like Omnishambles, it sums up the slightly random state of Government which seems to prevail in many countries this year, and the attitude towards them from the people. And from a Wordability point of view, Ineptocracy is the most viewed article and most searched for term across the blog in 2012, so it is clearly a word demanding of attention.

Redefinition of the Year

No dispute about this one – the furore over Misogyny in Australia takes this award. The global argument this led to about what the true definition of the word is, and whether Australian lexicographers were right to amend their definition, really encapsulates what semantic shifts tell us about changes in society.

So these are my top five, but so many other words have caught my attention – Goalgasm, Lesula, Papple, Marmageddon, Swapportunity to name just a few of my favourites – that even a list like this does not do it justice.

So I have produced a book of the words of the year, which is available right now from the Kindle Store on Amazon, just by clicking here. In it you will find more on all these words, and a great deal more. It’s a portrait of not only the language change of the year but a picture of what has really mattered to us as a society over the last 12 months.

Mother Flame Powers The Torch Relay

I must admit that I have been sceptical about the level of interest in the Olympic Torch relay, now winding its way across the UK ahead of July’s Games. This cynicism has not been directed at the relay itself, which has always struck me as an excellent prelude to the main event, with understandable local enthusiasm when the torch is finally in your vicinity.

No, I have been convinced that the BBC’s dedicated live coverage page, featuring a permanent stream of people running with the torch, together with text commentary, would struggle to find an audience because of the sheer monotony of the event to all but those in any given area on any given day. But with hundreds of thousands of people seemingly becoming addicted to the coverage, it seems I was wrong. Ah well.

So why Wordability’s interest. Well the Torch Relay has already started to contribute some fresh terms to the English language. The best of them came when the torch went out on Day Three. This was the point at which we found out that the fire being carried as a back-up in case the flame goes out is known as the ‘Mother Flame’.

I love this term, complete with its connotations of space ships and aliens. Actually, the rules governing relighting the flame are interesting, as the original flame from Greece has to be kept burning at all times, with relighting coming straight from this source, the aforementioned Mother. Bear in mind, Mother Flame flew all the way from Greece in a specially chartered plane. One hopes she was treated to first class.

It’s also important to remember that the relay is about the fire, and not the actual torches. Each torch bearer has their own torch, lit by its predecessor in a delicate operation known as a ‘Torch Kiss’. To cover longer distances during its daily journeys, the torch travels in a van and is not visible to the public. This is known as ‘Convoy Mode’. It’s where the BBC’s coverage becomes less interesting and is basically just live footage of a drive down the A30. Of course, the BBC itself is responsible for the term ‘Torchcam’, the camera which broadcasts all the live footage, together with its associated Twitter hashtag #bbctorchcam.

There have already been moments in the coverage where a new word has not yet emerged. Controversy has erupted over the decision by some torch bearers to sell their torches on eBay. What do we call such people – ‘Torch-Bayers’? ‘Flame Throwers’? And there is criticism over the celebrity status of some of the torch bearers and accusations of publicity seeking over some of the choices. I think the idea of asking Didier Drogba to take the torch through Swindon was particularly bizarre. ‘The Rich and Flamous’ perhaps?

As the Torch Relay powers on, it seems that interest in it will only increase, leading up to July and the start of the Olympics. It will be fascinating to see what the Olympics’ linguistic legacy turns out to be.