Thursday, January 13, 2011

Words

Earlier this month, the American Dialect Society voted “app” (noun, an abbreviated form of application, a software program for a computer or phone operating system) 2010 Word of the Year and “trend” (verb, to exhibit a burst of online buzz) as Most Likely to Succeed.

The committee of linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, authors, editors, professors, university students, and independent scholars says nominations don’t have to be brand new words, but they do have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year. By conducting the vote, they hope to highlight that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining.

The word of the year nominations and list of past winners made me smile, but I think the words designated most likely to succeed offer a more accurate picture of our evolving language. It’s amazing how many of these words I now use in everyday conversations:  “notebook PC” (voted most likely to succeed in 1990), “rollerblade” (1991), “snail mail” (1992), “like” with a form of the verb be to indicate speech or thought (1993), “World Wide Web,” “WWW,” ´”the Web” (1995), “drive-by” (1996), “DVD” (1997), “e-“ (1998), “dot-com” (1999).
My family has several words we refer to as "Converse-isms." We use these made-up words every day, but they make no sense when used in conversations outside the family. All three of our kids had several enlightening conversations with friends and teachers before they fully understood when, and with whom, these words could be used. Yet, I’ll argue that the laughter they’ve generated has played an important role in strengthening our family and for that reason alone, I’ll encourage further nominations.

Take, for example, the phrase, “turning on the oven.” Nothing special, right? But when one announces this detail while preparing a meal—and the three or four meals that follow during a weekend visit--it doesn’t take the long for the phrase to morph into “setting the table,” “turning on the TV,” and “washing dishes” for the rest us. (My mom, btw, is a good sport about this; she laughs right along with us!)

And who knows? I see Merriam-Webster has an Open Dictionary and five lists of user-submitted words. I just hope our Converse-isms never make the list of words that should be banished, which was also released in January. “Viral” and “epic” top of that list of nominations from the general public.

Five of our Converse-isms
Crasnitch  noun, a substitute for the word "thing"
Denny       noun, the piece of dessert in the center of the pan; the prized piece
Grunk       noun, one who eats like a barbarian
Varjack     noun, a substitute for the word “thing;” also refers to one who goofs

                 around, a screwball, as in "Don't be a varjack."
Zoober      noun, a tickling sensation created by placing one’s lips on another’s

                 stomach and blowing, a mouth fart (sudden expulsion of air through
                 closed lips, written as “Pfbtpfbtpfbt” or "Brrrr")