Word of the Year
Celebrating lexicographical creativity
by Shelley Daily
From the February, 2014 issue
In January, U-M English prof Anne Curzan attended the annual meeting of the American Dialect Society, where the country's top linguists and graduate students present their academic papers--and vote on the Word of the Year. Curzan says the group's been "celebrating lexical creativity" since 1990--much longer than the popular Oxford Dictionaries and Merriam-Webster Word of the Year contests. The ADS's recent picks include "hashtag," "occupy," and "app."
For 2013, Oxford chose "selfie," and Merriam-Webster picked "science." ADS's word? "Because."
Because is hardly new--it dates back to the fourteenth century, according to Curzan--but it's being used in a new way in American culture. "It used to be that because had to be followed by a full clause, but now you can just put a noun or adjective after it: 'I'm stressed because grad school' or 'I'm staying in tonight because -16 degrees.' Pretty cool grammatical stuff," she explains in an email. "And this kind of because came up over and over in the discussion of other words. For example, when the representative of the American Name Society came in and announced that Francis was the Name of the Year, someone yelled out, 'Because Pope!'"
For the freshest take on language change and slang, Curzan turns to the people linguists call the "movers and shakers" in language--college students. That's how she learned the word "hangry," meaning hungry and cranky. ("I know that feeling!" Curzan says.) Another student taught her the word "adorkable" to describe someone who's both adorable and dorky. Also, "turnt" is gaining popularity on campus--as in, "Let's get turnt up!" (to get excited or hyped up).
Although Curzan says some may worry these words signify a "breakdown of grammar" or a "lazy, sloppy use of language," she insists there's no reason to despair. "To be a living language is to be changing," she explains, and that's what makes these new words OK. Also, because fun.
[Originally published in February, 2014.]