Farewell to the Words of Yesteryear

Now that 2012 is nearing its end, the first and last and best choice for Words of the Year will be coming soon. It’s the January 4 vote by members and friends of the American Dialect Society at the group’s annual meeting.

It’s first, because it was the first annual vote on WOTY, established back in 1990. It’s last, because it comes after all the other selections that are nowadays announced by practically every dictionary maker and language savant. And it’s best, because ADS waits till the year is completely over, thus allowing for last-minute candidates, and because the ADS choices are the pooled wisdom and wit of well over 200 people who study language.

There’s still time to nominate a word or phrase for the American Dialect Society Word of the Year 2012. Just go to and click on the link there.

But before the words of 2012 completely dominate center stage, let me take a moment to say farewell to some vanishing words of the previous year, words that were so 2011 and not so 2012. Our concerns and our fads change rapidly in this instant Internet age, and the words associated with them similarly rise and fall.

Do you remember? Here’s a farewell to some of the leading candidates in 2011:

In 2011 we were preoccupied with “occupy,” with a new specific meaning derived from the Occupy Wall Street movement and its progeny across the nation and around the world. “Occupy” as a verb, noun, and combining form overwhelmingly won the vote for Word of the Year 2011.

In fact, “occupy” was so dominant that for 2011 ADS created a special category of Occupy Words. Do you remember the “people’s mic,” the nonmicrophone way of amplifying a speech by having nearby listeners repeat it? And “twinkling,” gestures of approval or disapproval by wiggling hands? With the Occupy movement nearly dormant this year, those terms will require footnotes in the history books.

And how about the “99 percent,” the nonwealthy whose oppression Occupiers were protesting? That’s so 2011. This year it’s the 47 percent.

Or remember FOMO? One candidate for Most Useful of 2011 was the Fear Of Missing Out that drives people to take texts and calls and Facebook updates even while they are in human company. FOMO is still around, but this year it takes a back seat to YOLO, You Only Live Once, an excuse for doing anything risky, popularized by the singer Drake. On Google recently, FOMO had 1.7 million hits, but YOLO had more than 27 million.

Is anyone “planking” anymore, being photographed in prone positions in odd places? Or “Tebowing,” kneeling and pointing heavenward after an athletic success? Those were serious contenders a year ago but marginal now. (There is news, though: In October 2012, Tim Tebow trademarked “Tebowing.” That means if you use the word to sell a product, he can sue. He explained that he just wanted to “make sure it’s used in the right way.”)

Time to wring out the old and ring in the new, like “binders full of women,” “Frankenstorm,” and the recent “fiscal cliff.” So farewell to 2011’s “humblebrag,” “kardash,” “bi-winning,” and “job creator.” They won’t be candidates  in 2012. Look them up at that American Dialect Society page if you don’t remember what they mean.

But if so many words of 2011 are relegated to the dustbin of history, it’s a consolation that the dustbin now includes the Internet, where the old words remain eternally googleable.

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