The American Dialect Society's Word of the Year Is Hashtag

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These days it seems like everyone goes around declaring the "word of the year," but the tradition began with the American Dialect Society, which met last night in Boston for its 23rd annual Word of the Year vote. It's a spirited event, where the members of the society—a group of linguists, lexicographers, and other professional language scholars—argue for their choices. And we were there! Here are some of the words that were discussed.

1. hashtag

Hashtag won for Word of the Year. Though it didn't look like an early favorite, the crowd was won over by arguments that it was the most linguistically interesting. It is a word for a written symbol in a written medium that has now crossed over into speech. What's more, its purpose is for speakers to make comments about their own speech. The word of the year is a word for talking about words, making it a very wordy word indeed.

2. gate lice

Gate lice is a term for airline passengers who crowd around a gate waiting to board. It won in the "Most Creative" subcategory, beating out mansplaining in a close runoff vote.

3. -(po)calypse, -(ma)geddon

These endings that combine with other words to make hysterical names for various events won for "Most Useful."

4. legitimate rape

Congressman Todd Akin's term for the kind of thing he thinks can't result in pregnancy swept two categories: "Most Unnecessary" and "Most Outrageous."

5. self-deportation

Won for "Most Euphemistic."

6. marriage equality

This term for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage won for "Most Likely to Succeed."

7. phablet

This blend of "phone" and "tablet" for the electronic device between those things won for "Least Likely to Succeed." However, because after two close runoff votes it only squeaked by with one more vote than YOLO, they were declared co-winners.

8. binders (full of women)

This was a last minute addition to the category "Election Words" and ended up winning over 47 percent, Etch-a-Sketch, Eastwooding, and the various blends made with the candidates' names (Obamaloney, Romnesia…)

9. fiscal cliff

Though fiscal cliff was considered a "Word of the Year" favorite going in, and it was also nominated for "Most Likely to Succeed," it ended up not winning in any category. One supporter pointed out that it was the most poetic of any of the considered words, and almost makes a palindrome. Another proposed that it was better taken under consideration in its plural form, fiscal cliffs, since it looks like we're going to be having them every two months now.

Linguists may not be able to do anything to prevent that from happening, but for at least one night they could decide to deny the name just a tiny bit of power. #sotheydiditwithahashtag

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January 5, 2013 - 4:14am
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