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story.lead_photo.caption Brenda Looper

Now that it's November, we're in that season in which some of us get inordinately giddy. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, post-Daylight Saving Time? Nah. Word nerds know it's the time dictionaries and other collections of word nerds release their words of the year.

I have palpitations just thinking about it. Though maybe that was the okra.

Cambridge Dictionary was first out of the gate Monday with its 2019 Word of the Year: upcycling. Upcycling, defined as "the activity of making new furniture, objects, etc., out of old or used things or waste material," received more likes than any other Word of the Day on the dictionary's Instagram page, @CambridgeWords.

"We think that our fans resonated with upcycling not as a word in itself but with the positive idea behind it," said the dictionary's blog. "Stopping the progression of climate change, let alone reversing it, can seem impossible at times. Upcycling is a concrete action a single human being can take to make a difference."

Children and grandchildren of those who grew up during the Great Depression are very familiar with this. Crates and shop displays gained new life as furniture. My personal favorite at Nanny and Grandpa's house was a wooden Clark thread spool cabinet used as a nightstand. My oldest brother and I have no idea what happened to it, but I'd love to see it again.

Smaller things got even more use. Margarine bowls became catch-alls for buttons and other small bits of stuff. Jelly jars became glasses. And coffee cans, either as is or spruced up with découpage, paint or whatever suited one's fancy, became everything from holders of pencils or nails and screws to carriers for worms or minnows on a fishing trip.

Now a new generation is getting in on the act, though for reasons different than my grandparents' generation. We've become a disposable society, with planned obsolescence and products made for single use or of quality that doesn't last. Our landfills quickly fill up, and toxic rotting waste and non-biodegradable products like plastic bottles end up where they shouldn't be--not just on the side of the road, but in the oceans and groundwater, and even in animals.

My grandparents "upcycled" because they had lived through the Depression and the poverty that came with it. Now we have too much stuff. Maybe we should take a cue from them.

In the coming weeks, other entities will announce their own words of the year. Collins English Dictionary (whose Word of the Year last year, coincidentally, was "single-use") has named one since its first in 2013: geek. Oxford Dictionaries has picked a prominent or notable Word of the Year since 2004 (sometimes the same in the U.K. and U.S., sometimes not), though in 2015, it wasn't a word at all; it was the emoji face with tears of joy (scandal!). Merriam-Webster has done it since 2003, relying on word searches, webpage hits and reader suggestions. Often, that means that the word ultimately chosen captures the zeitgeist of the year; in 2008, it was "bailout," and in 2018, it was "justice."

The American Dialect Society (ADS) usually releases its Word of the Year just after the beginning of the new year, and takes nominations all year long from website visitors. Past honorees include "dumpster fire," "hashtag," and "fake news," which has made more than a few lists in the past few years. It's almost like there's a reason for that ...

I look forward to all those lists, but the one that most years makes my heart skip a beat--mainly because of laughter--is the Lake Superior State University List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness. Like ADS, nominations are taken all year long, and the list is published around the end of the year (usually just before or on New Year's Day).

This year, I have hopes for a few words being banished that one might not think of. "Wow," "boom" and "bingo"--usually in all caps with no comment other than saying someone of like mind is right, or sharing a link to something they think is earth-shattering but usually isn't--have been used to death by assorted Internet trolls, so much so that I, and probably a lot of other people, just scroll on past them ... after rolling my eyes, of course.

A longtime reader recently sent me the name of a "word of the day" purveyor I somehow didn't know about (Word Genius, at, which made me want to share some others that have email newsletters:

• A.Word.A.Day by Anu Garg is one of the best, and you can sign up for its emails at

• Merriam-Webster's Twitter page isn't the only place for logophile fun, and you can read its blog and sign up for emails at

• Oxford English Dictionary also sends out a word of the day, and you can sign up at

There are many others, but these make this word nerd very happy ... when not irritating me with words that make me cringe.

Do you have words you absolutely loved or loathed this year? Let me know. I have to annoy the non-word nerds somehow.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at Email her at

Editorial on 11/06/2019

Print Headline: BRENDA LOOPER: Word up


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