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Word of the Year 2008

Word of the Year - UK

Drum roll please! Today sees the announcement of OUP UK’s Word of the Year, as chosen by Countdown’s Susie Dent. And, perhaps unsurprisingly given what is going on in the world’s economy at the moment, that word is credit crunch.

‘The world’s financial markets have been one of the biggest generators of vocabulary in the past year,’ says Susie, who is also the author of a  book for OUP, Words of the Year. ‘Specialized vocabulary is now firmly on the British public’s radar. As fears of a recession escalate, it may be productivity of the linguistic kind that is the safest bet. Credit crunch is an example of an established term – it was already in currency back in the 1960s – being resurrected as circumstances change’.

In addition to the now familiar financial terms such as Ninja loans, stagflation, funts or jingle mail, Words of the Year also looks at expressions from other areas of our lives – including online social networking, ethical living, and the world of styling – that have been ‘bubbling under’ in 2008.

It was a year when the traditional Olympic torch-bearers had to become flame attendents, when run-off – first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1873 – became synonymous with events in Zimbabwe, when Google increased its linguistic dominance thanks to our quest for Googleability, and the newer moofer (an acronym for a mobile out-of-office worker) and scuppie (an acronym for a ‘socially conscious upwardly-mobile person/urban professional’) came to reflect our modern working lives.

But ultimately, 2008 is shaping up to be the year of the credit crunch, and so here’s your handy guide to just some of the entries in the 2008 bank of credit crunch Words of the Year:

Ninja loan – a loan or mortgage made to someone who has ‘No Income, No Job, No Assets’

Jingle mail – the practice of sending back one’s house keys to the mortgage company because of negative equity, or the inability to keep up with payments

IPOD – acronym for ‘insecure, pressured, overtaxed, and debt-ridden’

Homedebtor – homeowner with a very large mortgage, particularly one that they are unlikely to ever pay off

Speed mentoring – a style of career- or life-coaching modelled on speed dating, in which each participant has a few minutes to seek advice on career-related questions

FUNT – someone who is Financially UNTouchable

Exploding arm – variable rate mortgage with rates that soon rise beyond a borrower’s ability to pay

Going underwater – falling into negative equity

Stagflation – stagnant growth and rising inflation


Word of the Year - US

Word of the Year time (or WOTY as we call it in the office). Every year the New Oxford American Dictionary prepares for the holidays by making its biggest announcement of the year.

The 2008 Word of the Year is (drum-roll please)… hypermiling.

Do you keep the tires on your car properly inflated to maximize your gas mileage? Have you removed the roof rack from your vehicle to streamline the car and reduce drag? Do you turn your engine off rather than idle at long stoplights? If you said yes to any of these questions you just might be a “hypermiler.”

Some history:
Hypermiling was coined in 2004 by Wayne Gerdes, who runs CleanMPG.com.

Hypermiling or to hypermile is to attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques. Rather than aiming for good mileage or even great mileage, hypermilers seek to push their gas tanks to the limit and achieve hypermileage, exceeding EPA ratings for miles per gallon.

Many of the methods followed by hypermilers are basic common sense — drive the speed limit, avoid hills and stop-and-go traffic, maintain proper tire pressure, don’t let your car idle, get rid of excess cargo — but others practiced by some devotees may seem slightly eccentric:

  • Driving without shoes (to increase the foot’s sensitivity on the pedals)
  • Parking so that you don’t have to back up to exit the space
  • “Ridge-riding” or driving with your tires lined up with the white line at the edge of the road to avoid driving through water-filled ruts in the road when it’s raining

The hypermiling movement has been criticized for its alleged promotion of driving tactics that are considered dangerous or illegal, such as overinflating tires, rolling through stop signs, and following closely behind large vehicles to cut down on wind resistance. The American Automobile Association (AAA) has issued statements condemning hypermiling as unsafe, while hypermilers have countered that AAA’s characterization of hypermiling is a misrepresentation (see links below for more info).

Hypermiling has also gotten some positive attention in 2008, gaining mainstream traction as gas prices soared and the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, especially those from foreign sources, has become more apparent. A new initiative launched by the Association of Automobile Manufacturers and supported by such notables as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger advocates the practice, referring to it as EcoDriving.

President-elect Barack Obama observed during his campaign that Americans could save as much oil as would be produced by proposed off-shore drilling if only they kept their tire pressures at recommended levels and took their cars in for regular tune-ups. Republicans’ subsequent criticisms of Obama’s statement put these measures advocated by hypermilers in the center of the debate between conservation and drilling as solutions to Americans’ foreign oil dependence problem.

A growing number of Americans favor hypermiling as a sensible set of practices for all drivers who are concerned about their wallets, the environment, and fuel independence, not just for those on the fringe who are obsessed with increasing their MPG numbers.

Word of the Year - Finalists:

Frugalista – person who leads a frugal lifestyle, but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying second-hand, growing own produce, etc.

Moofer – a mobile out of office worker – ie. someone who works away from a fixed workplace, via Blackberry/laptop/wi-fi etc. (also verbal noun, moofing)

Topless meeting – a meeting in which the participants are barred from using their laptops, Blackberries, cellphones, etc.

Toxic debt – mainly sub-prime debts that are now proving so disastrous to banks. They were parceled up and sent around the global financial system like toxic waste, hence the allusion.

Word of the Year - Shortlist:

CarrotMobcarrot mob – a flashmob type of gathering, in which people are invited via the Net to all support and reward a local small ethical business such as a shop or café by all patronizing it at the same time. Also as noun, carrotmobbing.

Ecohacking (also known as geoengineering) – the use of science in very large-scale projects to change the environment for the better/stop global warming (e.g. by using mirrors in space to deflect sunlight away from Earth).

Hockey mom – like a soccer mom, but one who is supportive of her ice-hockey playing kids, as popularized by Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin

Linkbait – content on a website that encourages [baits] a user to place links to it from other websites

Luchador – a wrestler, an exponent of lucha libre [Mexican Spanish, lit. = ‘free wrestling’, a form of professional wrestling originating in Mexico and popular in Latin America, with spectacular moves, showy costumes, etc.]

Rewilding – the process of returning an area to its original wild state/flora/fauna etc.

Staycation – vacation taken at or near one’s home, taking day trips, etc.

Tweet – a short message sent via the Twitter service, using a cellphone or other mobile device.

Wardrobe – has become a verb, as in: Ms. Mendes has a long-standing relationship with the house of Calvin Klein and has been wardrobed by Calvin Klein Collection.

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