OED Word of the Year

Published 22nd December 2011
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OED Word of the Year 2012

As a translation and interpreting service populated by lexiophiles, we find things like the OED’s Word of the Year fascinating. The Oxford English Dictionary brings out a list of words every year. These are normally words or phrase which is deemed to have been particularly significant in a given year.


Many of the words chosen recently have been related to technology, such as the following 2012 nominations:

Hacktivism: the action or practice of gaining unauthorised access to computer files or networks in order to further social or political ends. [A blend of hack and activism]
Sodcasting: (informal) the practice of playing music through the loudspeaker of a mobile phone while in a public place. [After podcasting]
Phone hacking: the action or practice of gaining unauthorised access to data stored in another person’s phone. Especially in order to access their voicemail.

However this year, politics prevailed, with the winner being chosen from this category. Here is a selection of this year’s nominations:

Arab Spring: a series of anti-government uprisings in various countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Beginning in Tunisia in December 2010. [After Prague Spring, denoting the 1968 reform movement in Czechoslovakia.]
Occupy: the name given to an international movement protesting against perceived economic injustice by occupying buildings or public places and staying there for an extended period of time. [From the imperative form of the verb occupy, as in the phrase Occupy Wall Street.]
Squeezed Middle: the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty. Consisting principally of those on low or middle incomes.

And the winner is!

The eventual winner was ‘squeezed middle’. A choice which has divided opinion. Unusually, the American version of the awards chose the same term as their British counterparts. Some criticisms of the phrase are that its definition is so vague that it is difficult to say exactly what it means. The phrase is not frequently used in speech or writing. This makes the fact that both versions of the awards chose it even more surprising!

What do you think of this year’s nominations? I think my chosen winner would have been ‘facepalm’ because I enjoy the mental image it conveys! It may not be the most elegant of terms, but what kind of language lover would I be if I didn’t believe in having fun with language?

Facepalm, a gesture in which the palm of one’s hand is brought to one’s face as an expression of dismay, exasperation, embarrassment, etc.

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