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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Words up

by Brenda Looper | December 14, 2022 at 3:52 a.m.
Brenda Looper


The last couple of columns have been devoted to Words of the Year from the biggies, Merriam-Webster (gaslighting) and Oxford Languages (goblin mode). This week, it's dictionaries that don't get the press the others do in these parts, especially since they're primarily seen as U.K. dictionaries. Still, we live in a global society, and some people (like me) love dictionaries so much that they'll search multiple sources when they're on the hunt.

Cambridge announced a Word of the Year that might seem odd for a U.K.-based lexicon: "homer," which had over 65,000 searches in a single day. Why? On May 5, "homer" was the winning word on Wordle. Cambridge noted: "This informal American English term for a home run in baseball left players of Wordle who were not familiar with the word feeling confused and frustrated. Tens of thousands of these Wordle players took to the Cambridge Dictionary to understand the meaning of the word homer.

"Homer was not the only five-letter word that saw a spike in searches in 2022. Cambridge Dictionary, the world's most popular online dictionary by page views, saw bursts of searches for many five-letter words in 2022 as the 'Wordle effect' took hold. Among the long list of these five-letter words are humor (the American spelling of humour), and words like caulk, tacit, and bayou, which prove that short words aren't always easy ones!

"Spikes for American words and spellings such as homer, humor, and favor happened because of a series of social media storms led by angry players of the popular word game Wordle, especially those who don't speak American English. It wasn't all one way, however: A lesser spike, but still noticeable, occurred when the British word bloke was a Wordle answer in February, prompting some annoyance in the U.S."

I'm a Words With Friends 2 player, not Wordle; maybe it just annoys me seeing all the posts on my Facebook feed considering my aversion to bandwagons. That, and having hissy fits over word games seems counterintuitive if the purpose is to have fun.

Collins Dictionary chose as its word "permacrisis," which it says is "an extended period of instability and insecurity." Seems very appropriate as we prepare to enter year four of the pandemic while also dealing with political instability, the war in Ukraine, climate change, inflation and other worries. It's certainly seeming as if covid will never go away (those who refuse to do even the bare minimum to help others or to listen to anyone with actual authority in their fields are still a big part of this, and attitudes need to change).

But I was honestly more taken with some of the finalists, including "partygate" (the covid lockdown scandal that brought down Boris Johnson), the replacement of the Russian spelling of Ukraine's capital city (Kiev, pronounced KEE-ev) with the Ukrainian spelling (Kyiv, pronounced keev) and lawfare (strategic use of legal proceedings to intimidate or hinder an opponent).

And then ... there's "splooting." That's something those of us who spend a lot of our free time on animal websites are very familiar with: the act of lying flat on the stomach with legs splayed out. You see it a lot when it's hot as animals try to keep cool, sometimes with a full sploot, or perhaps a half-sploot with front or back legs to the side (fur-nephew Charlie's an expert at that one).

This summer there was a rash of stories explaining splooting after the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation tweeted out a picture of a squirrel sploot.

This animal lover/word nerd thinks splooting could go a long way not just toward relief from heat, but cooling down tensions of an over-sensitive populace. Now if I can just find someone to help me up off the floor after I sploot.

Another group that usually selects a Word of the Year won't have its selection till the new year. The American Dialect Society (americandialect.org) is accepting nominations for another two weeks (till 6 p.m. our time Dec. 28). According to the group's website, "Since 1990, the society has selected words of the year to highlight language change, to bring a few aspects of the study of linguistics to the public's attention, and to have a little bit of fun. The lighthearted vote is held each year at the time of the society's annual conference," which will be held in early January. The 2021 word was "insurrection."

When making nominations, the group says: "For the sake of the vote, 'word' is broadly defined to include multiword phrases, compounds, and idiomatic expressions that behave like single lexical items. Ideal Word of the Year nominations are words which demonstrate widespread usage by a large number of people, in a variety of contexts and situations, and/or which reflect important events, people, places, ideas, or preoccupations of English-speakers in North America in 2022. Nominated words do not have to be absolutely brand-new but they should have risen to prominence or reached some kind of peak of popularity in 2022."

Have at it, and let me know if you make any nominations. And yes, I nominated "sploot."


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.


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