Popular slang and phrases can define a time, indicate trends and creatively extend a language. News events that captured our imagination in the year 2009 are reflected in inventive terms which are now posted on a new interactive online dictionary called Wordnik.
Wordnik provides information about English words and the context of usage from various sources, including Twitter feeds, and supplies what is not found in a traditional dictionary. It compiles words that users have added to the site and terms that might become part of the vernacular or vanish as an incident fades from memory. Also, it lists other word-oriented lists, such as words banned in the Irish parliament (buffoon, hypocrite, coward, etc.).
It was founded by lexicographers Erin McKean (a former editor of The New Oxford American Dictionary and author of Weird and Wonderful Words), and editorial director Grant Barrett who edited the Official Dictionary of Unofficial English, and compiled a list of buzzwords for the New York Times, which offers a linguistic look back at 2009.
Here's a sampling:
aporkalypse: Undue worry in response to swine flu. Includes unnecessary acts like removing nonessential kisses from Mexican telenovelas and the mass slaughter of pigs in Egypt.
birther: A person who believes that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and therefore can't be president.
bonus tax: A proposed levy on bonuses given to employees of companies that received government bailout money. Related terms included 'botax,' a proposed levy on cosmetic procedures. It would be used to help pay for health care reform and is a play on 'Botox,' a trade name for a substance used to smooth skin wrinkles. There was also 'cow tax,' what critics call a proposed fee for methane emissions.
car tone: Music or ambient noise proposed for use by electric cars, whose quietness otherwise makes them go unnoticed by pedestrians.
Chimerica: The intertwined economies of China and the United States, which together dominate the world economy. Popularized by Niall Ferguson in his book The Ascent of Money.
conflict minerals: Gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum, widely used in electronic devices and commonly mined in politically unstable countries or regions. Related to conflict diamonds.
drive like a Cullen: To drive like a bat out of hell, like a member of the Cullen family in the Twilight vampire books by Stephenie Meyer.
Government Motors: A nickname for General Motors, which is now majority owned by the US federal government.
Great Recession: A reference to the current economic downturn. Used at least a few times for every recession since 1980, but never with such vigor as now.
green shoots: Signs of an economic recovery or of a company's financial turnaround.
jeggings: jean leggings.
meep: An exclamation used disruptively or nonsensically by young people. Originated by Beaker of The Muppet Show.
mini-Madoff: A person who perpetrates a Ponzi scheme smaller than Bernie Madoff's.
netbook: An inexpensive portable computer, usually smaller than a laptop but larger than a smartphone, intended mainly for use with the Internet.
Octomom: Nadya Suleman, who gave birth to octuplets in January.
orphan books: Volumes still in copyright but out of print and unavailable for sale, and whose copyright holders cannot be found. Rose in 2007 but peaked this year with the fierce discussion over the proposed Google Books settlement.
sexting: The sending of sexual messages or pictures by mobile telephone.
vook: A digital book that includes some video in its text.
warmist: Someone who believes that the earth is jeopardized by becoming warmer. Shortened from global warmist and used mainly by people who are skeptical about global warming.
Ununbium: The temporary name of a newly found element, Uub for short. It comes from the Latin for the element's number, 112.