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Words of the year: lexicographers and word lovers select the words and phrases that best summed up 2006. Do their choices agree with yours?

With all the hundreds of thousands of words in the English language, can you choose just one word that truly represented the past year?

According to U.S. dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster, the 2006 Word of the Year is truthiness.


A noun, truthiness entered the vernacular in October 2005, when Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's satirical news show The Colbert Report used it to mean "truth that comes from the gut, not books," according to Merriam-Webster. Not long afterward, the American Dialect Society named truthiness its 2005 Word of the Year, beating out all Katrina-related words and intelligent design, among others.

Satirist Colbert, who had at one time called the dictionary writers "wordinistas," told The Associated Press, "Though I'm no fan of reference books and their fact-based agendas, I am a fan of anyone who chooses to honor me."

For the record, while truthiness isn't in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, some references put its use as far back as 1824, with varied definitions.

In winning Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year honors, truthiness beat out such contenders as google (note the lowercase g), meaning "to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web"; decider; war; insurgent; and terrorism. This year was the first time Merriam-Webster had opened up its Word of the Year selection to the public, hosting an online survey. Voters chose truthiness by a five-to-one margin over the No. 2 google.

Are you carbon neutral?

That's not to say that truthiness was the only word of the year. Picking up on the ongoing (and in some circles very vocal) debate on global warming, editors at The New Oxford American Dictionary chose carbon neutral as its word of the year. Being carbon neutral, they said, "involves calculating your total climate-changing carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in 'green' technologies such as solar and wind power."

I'm glad they defined carbon offset. The similar carbon footprint was a finalist in Webster's New World College Dictionary's list as well.

The American Dialect Society recently revealed its 2006 Word of the Year: plutoed. To pluto, they say, is "to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Association decided Pluto no longer met its definition of a planet."

Technology still plays a significant part in the rapid evolution of the English (and indeed all) language. In 2005 The New Oxford American Dictionary chose podcast, and in 2004 Merriam-Webster cited blog, with dozens of technical terms among the runners-up. For 2006, Webster's New World College Dictionary selected Crackberry, a play on the ubiquitous and apparently addictive BlackBerry that "sums up the ubiquitous thumbing of keypads on handheld devices throughout the country," said the editors. "And it does double duty, denoting both the device and the user." Crackberry (in various spellings) has been around for a while--nearly as long as the BlackBerry, I would guess--and was just one of several terms that, while not necessarily justifying an entry in the dictionary, are populating the staff's "massive database," including mouse potato, geek chic and Thumb Generation, according to the press release announcing Crackberry's win. Indeed, the web site, scheduled to launch early this year, purports to be "the No. 1 site for Crackberry users and abusers."

Americans do not have a lock on word-of-the-year awards. Susie Dent, author of The Language Report for Oxford University Press in the U.K., announced in December that the word of the year was bovvered, an adjective that means, basically, "I don't care." (Think bothered.) It originated with British comedienne Catherine Tate's TV show, and while I don't think it's made it across the pond, "Am I bovvered?" is a national catch-phrase in Britain.

The evolution of language

Looking at the Oxford University Press words of the year going back to 1906 reveals a fascinating progression of not only language but also social history. Muckraking was the first winner in 1906. Peace rally came into vogue in 1919. In 1942, it was news conference, but by 1953 the word was teleconference. In the '80s, terms like nip and tuck (1980) and liposuction (1983) were on everyone's plumped-up lips. While there are some that are clearly dated, it's amazing to see how many words have survived the past century more or less intact. (You can find the complete list at

in your own words

What about you? What words or phrases would you consider worthy of "of the year" honors? Are there terms that you've added to the "buzzword bingo" you play during meetings? Let us know at

about the author Sue Khodarahmi is managing editor of Communication World.
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Title Annotation:editor's angle
Author:Khodarahmi, Sue
Publication:Communication World
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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