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.

Shwopping Presents a New Swapportunity

What is it with the need to create new words out of ‘swap’? Earlier this year, Wordability looked at the non-word Swapportunity, which has managed to gain a degree of currency despite being made up for an American Yoplait commercial.

Now UK retailing icon Marks & Spencer has got in on the act. Its new campaign, encouraging people to bring in an old item of clothing to donate to Oxfam whenever buying something new, has prompted them to try and introduce a new word into everyday English. People are shopping and swapping, so they must be Shwopping.

The plan has, hardly surprisingly, garnered significantly publicity, with ‘shwopping’ featuring prominently in all the coverage.

Can M&S claim to have invented it? The company is certainly proud of the word, and chief executive Marc Bolland was quoted as saying: “Within 24 hours this word of ‘shwopping’ might be added to the British language.”

But I wonder whether he checked with environmental campaigners in New Zealand. After all, in December last year, The Big Shwop took place in Wellington, encouraging people to swap one item for another. So maybe not quite as original as we thought.

Personally, I am not sure about shwopping as a word. It sounds a bit to me like I was planning to swap something, but the six pints of beer I drank made it much harder for me to say it. And that would be the only way I would be likely to shwop until I dropped.

Swapportunity Knocks for New Word

Let’s get one thing straight from the outset – Swapportunity is not a recognised word. But is its status about to change?

Swapportunity’s current emergence is an advertising executive’s dream. The word features in an American commercial for yoghurt company Yoplait. The ad revolves around an earnest boy taking part in a spelling bee and shows his horror when he is asked to spell the word ‘Swapportunity’. His ire is not helped when he is told that it is defined as “The opportunity to swap a higher calorie snack for a delicious Yoplait Light”. Affronted, he protests that it is not a real word. It’s very funny, and worth a look:

Clearly, swapportunity will not catch on as a genuine word if its definition is tied up with low calorie yoghurts. But it does have a chance as a more generic word, meaning the opportunity to swap something.

Now I know that this isn’t a yawning chasm of meaning crying out for a word to encapsulate it. But there is evidence that it is being used. An Atlanta fashion event, The Ultimate Swapportunity, has just taken place. Musician website The Gear Page has discussed using it to create a market for musicians to trade instruments. And there are isolated examples from the last couple of years to show that this linguistic innovation has been on the margins, with a Forbes piece about corporate bonds being the most high brow.

So while swapportunity will not be appearing in dictionaries in the next few weeks, I think it has a chance of not only growing online but also being used at trading events. I am sure it is an opportunity it would not want to swap.