by

Basic WOTY

WOTY-scrabbleAll of a sudden it’s November. And now that the end of the year is in sight, it’s time for WOTY season to begin.

What’s WOTY? That’s the convenient acronym (pronounced woe-tea) used by those of us who are intrigued by the notion of a Word of the Year — a word that captures the spirit, or concerns, or activities, or peculiarities of the year gone by.

It’s like Time magazine’s choice of a Person (formerly Man) of the Year. In fact, that was the inspiration when the American Dialect Society instituted the Word of the Year back in 1990.

The society’s choice that year was a political one: bushlips meaning “insincere political rhetoric,” from the elder President Bush’s promise, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” It wasn’t necessarily the best choice, since it was just a quip in very limited circulation. But it did reflect one of the major concerns of that year.

For 1991, the society chose the phrase mother of all — , used by Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. And since then choices have included prefixes (e- in 1998), acronyms (Y2K in 1999), hashtags (and the word #hashtag itself in 2012). There have been some memorable words: World Wide Web (1995), 9/11 (2001), weapons of mass destruction (2002), truthiness (2005), bailout (2008), app (2010), occupy (2011) and the hashtag #blacklivesmatter last year.

Since 1990, others have followed this pioneering example and chosen WOTYs of their own, Merriam-Webster and the Oxford dictionaries among them. But the American Dialect Society has the final word, waiting till January to make its choice, while the others announce their choices before the current year is over. Anyone is welcome to send nominations for the ADS vote to woty@americandialect.org.

And here’s my preliminary nomination for 2015: basic.

My young informants tell me that it’s the word this year to describe someone or something that fits a stereotype, especially the “basic white girl.” A January 2014 post to Urban Dictionary lists among the basic white girl’s attributes: Starbucks, Uggs, lots of selfies, I love you all over tumblr, leggings as pants.

In 2013 Christopher Hudspeth offered “20 Signs You’re a Stereotypical White Girl” on Thought Catalog, including

* You love Starbucks as much, if not more, than your least favorite family member.

* You love Katy Perry.

* You love the Cupid Shuffle, the Cha Cha Slide (Part 2), and the wobble.

* You love leggings, yoga pants, Victoria’s Secret, The North Face.

* You love being tan.

* You have an iPhone that you love like a living, breathing pet.

* You love a good acronym.

* You’ve picked up the art of twerking.

* You kind of don’t care about stereotypes.

But basic doesn’t stop with white girls. As another contributor to Urban Dictionary explained in 2010, basic can mean anything “that is uninteresting, vapid, boring, or uncool.” So there’s a basic bastard, basic bitch, basic bro, basic dinner, even a basic cat.

True, basic has been around for a while, but my millennials tell me it’s peaking this year. So I guess basic would be a basic choice for WOTY of 2015.

 

Return to Top