Today the Pittsburgh Tribune Review spotlighted one of the largest conventions of linguistics, the annual meeting of the Linguistics Society of America, which is being held this weekend in Pittsburgh. LSA’s meeting is held in conjunction with several other societies each year, including the American Dialect Society. In addition to the sociolinguistic research that will be presented this week at ADS, this article highlights the annual Word of the Year (WOTY).
The WOTY has been around for almost three decades, and it’s always a lot of fun. The nomination meeting for this years WOTY will take place tomorrow night, and several lists of contenders have already been circulated.
I’m a big fan of “hactivism,” an old concept among computer hackers (many of whom are anarchists at heart), but a word which has gained more currency during this years Wiki-leaks controversy.
Other topical words include “vuvuzela,” “hit the slide,” and “run and tell that.” Notice that the “word” of the year may be more than one word. This might seem strange, but you should keep in mind two things. First, linguists know that the concept of a “word” is a loose one. What English does in one word, Chinese might take several words to do. What English does in several words, Kswahili does in one. Second, sociolinguists are a lot of fun at parties. We’d rather have fun at this vote than squabble about the details.
That being said, the most fun I’ve ever had at a WOTY vote is the year that we voted in “truthiness.” Comedian Stephen Colbert had a field day with our attempts to define “his” word, and I now get show clips of his show to my linguistics classes. I’m planning to lobby for some combination of “fear” and “sanity” with the hopes of a repeat performance.