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13 Words of the Year from Other Countries

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You've heard about selfie, science, and because. But we aren't the only ones who like to try to capture the spirit of the year in a word. Here are some Words of the Year chosen by 13 other countries.

1. Sakte-tv, Norway

The Language Council in Norway chose sakte-tv (slow-TV), reflecting the popularity of shows like "National Wood Fire Night," a four hour discussion of firewood followed by an eight hour broadcast of a crackling fire. Some of the good competitors were rekkeviddeangst (range anxiety)—the fear that the battery of your electric car will run out before you can get to a charging station—and revelyd (fox sound) because, of course, Ylvis.

2. Gubbploga, Sweden

The Swedish Language Council takes an egalitarian, Swedish approach to the word of the year, releasing a list of the year's new Swedish words without declaring a winner. I like the sound of gubbploga (old man plowing), which refers to criticism of snow plowing priorities that put male-dominated workplace routes over bus and bike lanes and schools. Another good one was nagelprotest (nail protest) for the practice of painting your nails in the name of a cause—for instance, getting a rainbow manicure as a statement against Russian anti-gay laws.

3. Undskyld, Denmark

A member of the Danish Language Council, along with the hosts of the "Language Laboratory" radio show, chose undskyld (sorry) as Word of the Year, making specific reference to the apology a politician had to make after his luxury travel expenses were revealed. It won out over some familiar choices like twerk, selfie, and lårhul (thigh gap) but also gastroseksuel (gastrosexual, for food lovers) and kønskrans ("gender wreath"), a proposed substitute for jomfruhinde (hymen, or "virgin barrier").

4. GroKo, Germany

GroKo is short for Große Koalition (Grand Coalition), an agreement between the conservative and center-left political parties in the German parliament that was hammered out over a long period of negotiation. It suggests the word Kroko, meaning Crocodile, which according to the Word of the Year judges at the Association for the German Language, captures a half-mocking attitude toward the whole negotiation process. It beat out big data, Protz-Bischof (bling bishop, referring to a scandal in which a bishop spent millions on new digs), and freund hört mit (friends are listening), a play on the Nazis' wartime anti-spy slogan "feind hört mit" (enemies are listening), referring to revelations about NSA surveillance.

5. Selfie, Netherlands

Selfie was the Dutch Word of the Year in the Netherlands, according to dictionary publisher Van Dale. Twerken won the Youth Language category, and scheefwerken (skewed work) won the Lifestyle category. It means work that's below one's training or experience level, something a lot of people have had to settle for in recent years. Winners in other categories included some good Dutch compounds like hooliganheffing (proposed hooligan tax on soccer clubs to pay to offset police workload during games) and participatiesamenleving (participatory society).

6. Selfie, Belgium

Selfie also won for Belgium, even though it isn't a very Flemish word. Nor is swag, the winner in the Youth Language category, or duckface, the winner in Lifestyle.

7. Escrache, Spain

In Spain, the newspaper El Mundo named an importation from South America, escrache, the Word of the Year. It refers to a protest against corruption where people gather to denounce a politician or public figure outside their home or workplace. It comes from the Argentinian verb escrachar (publicly expose) and was first used during investigation of the crimes of the dictatorship there. It was used in Spain this year to refer to protests having to do with the mortgage crisis. The economic crisis was reflected in many of the other candidates, such as copago (copayment for access to public health care), quita ("remove" in the context of debt forgiveness), and austericidio (austericide, or suicide by austerity). It wasn't all doom and gloom. Selfie made the list there too, but in Spanish it's autofoto.

8. Bombeiro, Portugal

A poll by publisher Porto Editora selected bombeiro (firefighter) as the Word of the Year. It honors the firefighters who had to battle the raging wildfires that consumed forests in southern Portugal over the summer.

9. Plénior, France

Plénior was selected at the XYZ Festival of New Words in Le Havre. It refers to a senior who's living life to the fullest, a blend of pleine (full) and senior. The way it puts an enthusiastic, positive spin on things doesn't seem very French, but good for you, plénoirs! Enjoy yourselves!

10. Fáng 房, China

In China, a group of government organizations choose the Character of the Year. This year's choice was fáng 房, which occurs in words having to do with housing. Appropriate for a year in which a housing crisis and a real estate bubble factored prominently.

11. Mái 霾, Singapore

In the poll conducted by Lianhe Zaobao, the Chinese language newspaper in Singapore, the word mái 霾, meaning haze, won with 130,000 votes, beating out words like tān 贪 (greed) and wǎng 网 (internet). Some of the highest pollution levels ever recorded occurred there this year. When there's more haze around you than either greed or internet, you know you're in trouble.

12. Jiǎ 假, Taiwan

The winner of a poll by the Taiwanese newspaper United Daily News was jiǎ 假 (fake), inspired by frequent news about fake products and food safety scandals.

13. Rin 輪, Japan

The Kanji of the Year contest is sponsored by the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society. This year's winner was rin (or wa) 輪. The character means “ring” and is used in the word for the Olympic Games, gorin 五輪 (literally, “five rings”). The main reason for this choice was the selection of Tokyo as host of the 2020 Summer Olympics. But a number of other reasons were cited, including the hope that the “'circle of support' for the recovery of areas impacted by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami will expand."

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Space
Linguists Say We Might Be Able to Communicate With Aliens If We Ever Encounter Them
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If humans ever encountered extraterrestrials, would we be able to communicate with them? That was the question posed by linguists from across the country, including famed scholar Noam Chomsky, during a workshop held in Los Angeles on May 26.

Organized by a scientific nonprofit called Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI), the one-day event entitled "Language in the Cosmos" brought together two camps that don't usually converge: linguists and space scientists. The event was held in conjunction with the National Space Society's annual International Space Development Conference, which featured the likes of theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson, Amazon CEO and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, SpaceX's Tom Mueller, science fiction writer David Brin, and more.

Linguist Sheri Wells-Jensen, chair of the workshop, said in a statement that it's unlikely we'll ever come face to face with aliens or find ourselves in a "Star Trek universe where most of the aliens are humanoid and lots of them already have a 'universal translator.'" Still, scientists don't rule out the possibility of chatting with extraterrestrials via radio.

Chomsky, who's often regarded as the father of modern linguistics, was optimistic that extraterrestrial life forms—if they're out there—might observe the same “universal grammar” rules he believes serve as the foundation for all human languages. His theory of universal grammar posits that there's a genetic component to language, and the ability to acquire and comprehend language is innate. Chomsky argues that a random mutation caused early humans to make the “evolutionary jump” to language some 40,000 years ago through a process called Merge, which lets words be combined, according to New Scientist. (Not all linguists are convinced by Chomsky's theory.)

At the workshop, a presentation by Chomsky (of MIT), Ian Roberts (University of Cambridge), and Jeffrey Watumull (Oceanit) argued that "the overwhelming likelihood is that ET Universal Grammar would be also be based on Merge." They said grammar would probably not be the greatest barrier in communicating with aliens; rather, understanding their "externalization system," or whatever channel they're using to communicate, could be the greatest challenge.

Another presentation by Jeffrey Punske (Southern Illinois University) and Bridget Samuels (University of Southern California) drew a similar conclusion. Human languages have physical and biological constraints, some of which are grounded in physics, so it follows that extraterrestrial languages would be limited by the same laws of physics, the linguists said.

Douglas Vakoch, president of METI, said in a statement that these theories represent a "radical shift" for scientists working in the field, who have "scoffed at the idea of creating interstellar messages inspired by natural languages." Past radio messages sent out into space relied on math and science, in hopes that those principles are universal.

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Animals
Sploot 101: 12 Animal Slang Words Every Pet Parent Should Know
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For centuries, dogs were dogs and cats were cats. They did things like bark and drink water and lay down—actions that pet parents didn’t need a translator to understand.

Then the internet arrived. Scroll through the countless Facebook groups and Twitter accounts dedicated to sharing cute animal pictures and you’ll quickly see that dogs don’t have snouts, they have snoots, and cats come in a colorful assortment of shapes and sizes ranging from smol to floof.

Pet meme language has been around long enough to start leaking into everyday conversation. If you're a pet owner (or lover) who doesn’t want to be out of the loop, here are the terms you need to know.

1. SPLOOT

You know your pet is fully relaxed when they’re doing a sploot. Like a split but for the whole body, a sploot occurs when a dog or cat stretches so their bellies are flat on the ground and their back legs are pointing behind them. The amusing pose may be a way for them to take advantage of the cool ground on a hot day, or just to feel a satisfying stretch in their hip flexors. Corgis are famous for the sploot, but any quadruped can do it if they’re flexible enough.

2. DERP

Person holding Marnie the dog.
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images for ASPCA

Unlike most items on this list, the word derp isn’t limited to cats and dogs. It can also be a stand-in for such expressions of stupidity as “duh” or “dur.” In recent years the term has become associated with clumsy, clueless, or silly-looking cats and dogs. A pet with a tongue perpetually hanging out of its mouth, like Marnie or Lil Bub, is textbook derpy.

3. BLEP

Cat laying on desk chair.
PoppetCloset, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you’ve ever caught a cat or dog poking the tip of its tongue past its front teeth, you’ve seen a blep in action. Unlike a derpy tongue, a blep is subtle and often gone as quickly as it appears. Animal experts aren’t entirely sure why pets blep, but in cats it may have something to do with the Flehmen response, in which they use their tongues to “smell” the air.

4. MLEM

Mlems and bleps, though very closely related, aren’t exactly the same. While blep is a passive state of being, mlem is active. It’s what happens when a pet flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth, whether to slurp up water, taste food, or just lick the air in a derpy fashion. Dogs and cats do it, of course, but reptiles have also been known to mlem.

5. FLOOF

Very fluffy cat.
J. Sibiga Photography, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Some pets barely have any fur, and others have coats so voluminous that hair appears to make up most of their bodyweight. Dogs and cats in the latter group are known as floofs. Floofy animals will famously leave a wake of fur wherever they sit and can squeeze through tight spaces despite their enormous mass. Samoyeds, Pomeranians, and Persian cats are all prime examples of floofs.

6. BORK

Dog outside barking.
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According to some corners of the internet, dogs don’t bark, they bork. Listen carefully next time you’re around a vocal doggo and you won’t be able to unhear it.

7. DOGGO

Shiba inu smiling up at the camera.
iStock

Speaking of doggos: This word isn’t hard to decode. Every dog—regardless of size, floofiness, or derpiness—can be a doggo. If you’re willing to get creative, the word can even be applied to non-dog animals like fennec foxes (special doggos) or seals (water doggos). The usage of doggo saw a spike in 2016 thanks to the internet and by the end of 2017 it was listed as one of Merriam-Webster’s “Words We’re Watching.”

8. SMOL

Tiny kitten in grass.
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Some pets are so adorably, unbearably tiny that using proper English to describe them just doesn’t cut it. Not every small pet is smol: To earn the label, a cat or dog (or kitten or puppy) must excel in both the tiny and cute departments. A pet that’s truly smol is likely to induce excited squees from everyone around it.

9. PUPPER

Hands holding a puppy.
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Like doggo, pupper is self-explanatory: It can be used in place of the word puppy, but if you want to use it to describe a fully-grown doggo who’s particularly smol and cute, you can probably get away with it.

10. BOOF

We’ve already established that doggos go bork, but that’s not the only sound they make. A low, deep bark—perhaps from a dog that can’t decide if it wants to expend its energy on a full bark—is best described as a boof. Consider a boof a warning bark before the real thing.

11. SNOOT

Dog noses poking out beneath blanket.
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Snoot was already a dictionary-official synonym for nose by the time dog meme culture took the internet by storm. But while snoot is rarely used to describe human faces today, it’s quickly becoming the preferred term for pet snouts. There’s even a wholesome viral challenge dedicated to dogs poking their snoots through their owners' hands.

12. BOOP

Have you ever seen a dog snoot so cute you just had to reach out and tap it? And when you did, was your action accompanied by an involuntary “boop” sound? This urge is so universal that boop is now its own verb. Humans aren’t the only ones who can boop: Search the word on YouTube and treat yourself to hours of dogs, cats, and other animals exchanging the love tap.

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