Words Fail Us

Sorry, but we would like to quibble. Today the dictionary division of Oxford University Press announced two words for the year 2012, one from the U.S. branch of the press, and one from the British, and let’s face it, America has been slighted.

GIF? Are you serious? GIF? Let’s put aside for a moment that it isn’t a word per se and instead an acronym for graphics interchange format. We refuse to be mollified by OUP’s celebrating it as a new verb, “to gif,” not a decades’ old noun: “The recent development of verbal GIF is an example of a linguistic process called conversion, or zero-formation,” urges the press. “He GIFed the highlights of the debate,” it suggests.

No sale.

We should note that one of the runners-up in the U.S. shortlist was MOOC (a term of no small familiarity to any Chronicle reader). If you are going to settle for an acronym, at least make it bovinely memorable.

Meanwhile, showing clear favoritism for the other side of the Atlantic, Oxford in Britain chose “omnishambles” for the U.K. word of the year. According to the OUP blog, the word was “coined by the writers of the satirical television program The Thick of It. An omnishambles, OUP continues,  “is a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, and is characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.” What kind of omnishambles was it that gave GIF to the States?

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