10 Previous Word of the Year Candidates That Didn't Catch On

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Last week Oxford Dictionaries named "squeezed middle" the Global Word of the Year,* edging out terms like "clicktivism," "fracking" and "tiger mother." A quick look through past lists like these tells us Words of the Year don’t always stand the test of time. Here are ten examples.

1. Bushlips

Anyone who remembers George H. W. Bush’s “read my lips” speech from 1988 probably also remembers that in 1990, the new president raised several taxes as part of a budget balancing agreement. The outrage resulted in the term bushlips, which is interchangeable with bullsh*t, apparently.

2. (To) pluto
Poor Pluto. After our ninth planet’s recategorization in 2006, when something was demoted or devalued, it was plutoed. “I used to be the manager, but I got plutoed. Is this for here or to go?” Five years after topping the American Dialect Society (ADS) list, this one still hasn’t caught on. Time for a retroactive plutoing of pluto?

3. Meatspace
OED lexicographer Susie Dent chose "meatspace" as representative of 1995. If you're curious, meatspace is the real world, as opposed to cyberspace.

4. Intexticated

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In 2009 this word, which means "to be distracted by texting while driving," was shortlisted by Oxford Dictionaries, but ultimately defeated by unfriend.

5. Phelpsian
Remember when Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics? So do we. What’s not so memorable is the ensuing use of Phelpsian as an adjective, as in “Phelpsian Pheat,” or an achievement “excellent in the fashion of Michael Phelps.” You’re probably better off sticking with the decidedly older Herculean.

6. Lawn mullet
Business in the front, party in the back—assuming “business” means “neatly manicured” and “party” means “unmowed.”

7. Recombobulation area
The ADS winner of Most Creative in 2008, the "recombobulation area" is the place in which passengers are allowed to recover their belongings and composure after an airport security check—a procedure not-so-affectionately dubbed "gate rape," a term voted 2010’s Most Outrageous by ADS.

8. Kummerspeck
Literally “grief fat” or “grief bacon,” Kummerspeck is a German word that describes weight gain from emotional overeating (we may have had a hand in this one). The word has potential, since there’s no direct English equivalent, but we think “grief bacon” is a bit catchier. Even so, Kummerspeck was shortlisted by Global Language Monitor as one of the Top Words of 2011; "Occupy" topped that list this year.

9. (To) newt
Another verb coined from political events, newting is the practice of making aggressive changes as a newcomer, from Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America in 1995. That year, to newt tied with the more useful worldwide web and its derivatives, WWW and the web.

10. Millennium bug
You probably know millennium bug by its more famous moniker, Y2K, but in 1997 this was the name for a potential global disaster caused by the two-digit year format, which threatened to disrupt banking and transit systems at the stroke of the new year. (We survived.) Unsurprisingly, Y2K topped the ADS list in 1999.
* * *
Anyone want to bring any of these back? What are some words you hope do (or don’t) work their way into everyday use?

* I know what you're thinking. Here's how Oxford University Press explained it: "From a dictionary-maker's point of view, a two-word expression is called a 'compound' and is treated as one word [a 'headword'] in the dictionary. This is not the first time that a two-word expression has been selected as our WOTY. In 2010, the UK Word of the Year was 'big society.'"

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November 28, 2011 - 8:23am
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