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.

A Papple A Day

When is an apple not an apple? When it’s a cross between varieties of pear but still looks like an apple and tastes like a pear. And what do you call such a fruit? According to Marks and Spencer, you call it a Papple.

The new fruit, a hybrid grown in New Zealand, is due to go on sale in the UK retailer’s stores in the next few days, and is currently only called a papple as a temporary measure until another name is found, or so it is claimed. I’d be surprised if that ever changes. Its official name is T109, which will of course not be widely used, not least because it sounds like an Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi robot.

The concept of pear crosses having similarities to apples is not a new one. Nashi Pear is perhaps the best known name of the Pyrus pyrofolia species, with Apple Pear being one of the alternative names. A papple is clearly a different fruit, and the use of a name that will stick in people’s minds in the short term is a good way of establishing the brand.

But will it last? Well the appearance of the Papple has allowed people to remind us of the Pineberry, combining the best of the strawberry and the pineapple; the Grapple, which is a grape-like apple; or the Aprium, which combines the apricot with the plum.

What these cross-breed words serve to tell us is that while they sound memorable, they don’t really have any great longevity. We will think about papples and joke about the word for a few weeks, and then they will be likely to fade away, with the word quickly becoming historical and not entering everyday usage. In fact, it will only become current the next time that somebody combines some fruit and puts it in the shops, allowing us once again to trot out all its predecessors. For entertainment’s sake, let’s hope that anything in the future involves a mango.