So on a rainy Monday in D.C. last month, at the Pavilion Café in the sculpture garden on the National Mall, I was lunching with Joan Hall, editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English, and Ben Zimmer, executive producer of Vocabulary.com, columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. That’s the committee that oversees the society’s annual choice of Word of the Year. And we agreed 2014 hasn’t been the greatest year for a WOTY (as we familiarly call it).
Not that there aren’t plenty of new words. There always are, for any living language, and certainly for a language that has so many speakers who cleverly or accidentally say or write words not yet in the dictionary. And there have been solid choices for the society’s WOTY in past years—like the prefix e- for 1998, the scary Y2K for 1999, the painful 9/11 for 2001, occupy for 2011, hashtag for 2012. But this year it has just been one thing after another occupying our hashtags, with no single word or expression standing out above the rest.
That won’t stop the American Dialect Society from choosing, of course. Or the many others who have followed the society’s example and made their own choices.
Our estimation of the relative insignificance of this year’s candidates was affirmed with the recent announcement by the collective Oxford Dictionaries (that is, the sisters, cousins, and aunts of the great Oxford English Dictionary) that its WOTY for 2014 is: vape.
Vape, you know, the vapor you inhale and exhale when you smoke an e-cigarette. Or as a verb, vape, to smoke an e-cig. Hard to imagine a more vapid choice.
Well, that’s British. Maybe in England everybody’s vaping, or (to choose another from the Oxford Dictionaries’ WOTY shortlist) bae-ing (the noun bae meaning a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner). Do we have anything better on this side of the pond? Tune in here next week for a look at some prominent American candidates, but don’t get your hopes up.
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