Half Time for WOTY

WOTY-scrabbleMonday, June 20, marked the turning point of the year — the solstice, when days stopped getting longer and started on their six months’ journey to long, dark nights. Now we can’t put off thinking about the rest of the year so easily:  back to school, Election Day, Thanksgiving. Maybe even a World Series victory for the Chicago Cubs.

So it’s also time to begin thinking about the Word of the Year, specifically the WOTY chosen by the American Dialect Society. The society had the first word, having begun in 1990 before dictionary publishers and others thought of doing this, and now also the last word, coming in early January after all the others have announced their choices. You can read all about it on the society’s website.

And everyone is invited to help. If you’ve noted a word (or phrase) that deserves consideration, just email the society at

We’re only halfway through 2016, but already it’s clear that among the candidates will be heaps of trumpisms. A “Trumptionary” compiled by the lexicographer and Trumpologist David Barnhart records, among others, Trumpdom, Trump effect, Trumpertantrum, Trumpery, Trumpeter, Trumpian, Trumpish, Trumpism, Trumpistan, Trumpize, Trumpocalypse, Trumponomics, Trumphobia, and Trumpy.

Other candidates for WOTY are emerging too, though frankly, I’m trumped.

Before the vote on WOTY at the society’s annual meeting, winners are chosen in individual categories. In 1990, these were: most likely to succeed, most useful, most original, most amazing, most unnecessary, most outrageous. For the most recent vote on WOTY 2015, these were: most likely to succeed, most useful, most creative, most unnecessary, most outrageous, most euphemistic, least likely to succeed, most notable hashtag, most notable emoji.

Except for adding hashtags and emoji, the categories have remained largely the same. Unfortunately, they are so subjective that it’s often difficult to decide where to put a candidate. Where would you put “ammosexual,” for example? Last year it ended up in the most-creative category, where it was the winner, but it could easily go somewhere else.

This year, therefore, the society’s New Words Committee, headed by Ben Zimmer, is considering revising the categories to make them more distinctive and less subjective, as befits the solemnity of the society’s choices. For example, categories could be topical: political words, scientific words, e-words, slang words.

You can email suggestions for the new categories too, as well as for particular WOTYs. And happy new half year!


Return to Top