ADS Word of the Year for 2019

The American Dialect Society has held its annual conference over the past few days in New Orleans, and it has voted on its 2019 Word of the Year and its choice for Word of the Decade for the past ten years. The ADS is a professional group of linguists, lexicographers, and other language scholars, and they have been choosing a Word of the Year since 1990. They use a broad definition of word that encompasses any lexical item and includes phrases, abbreviations, emojis, and the like. While the group is scholarly, the WOTY selection is mostly for fun. The choice reflects the views of scholars but is not a scholarly endeavor. I have, upon occasion in the past, participated in the ADS WOTY selection, but I did not do so this year. See the winners and definitions of each nominee here.

So, the ADS’s choice for 2019 Word of the Year is:

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2019 Words of the Year (WOTY)

As in past years, I’ve come up with a list of words of the year. I do things a bit differently than other such lists in that I don’t try to select one term to represent the entire year. Instead, I select twelve terms, one for each month. During the year as each month passed, I selected one word that was prominent in public discourse or that was representative of major events of that month. Other such lists that are compiled at year’s end often exhibit a bias toward words that are in vogue in November or December, and my hope is that a monthly list will highlight words that were significant earlier in the year and give a more comprehensive overview of the planet’s entire circuit around the sun. I also don’t publish the list until the final week in December; selections of words of the year that are made in November (or even earlier!), as many of them are, make no sense to me. You cannot legitimately select a word to represent a year when you’ve got over a month left to go.

My list is skewed by an American perspective, but since I’m American, them’s the breaks—although I have deliberately limited the number of Trump-related terms; given his ability to dominate the news cycle day in, day out, the list would otherwise be all Trump all the time.

I interpret word loosely to mean a lexical item, including phrases, abbreviations, hashtags, and the like. The selected words are not necessarily, or even usually, new, but they are associated with their respective month, either coming to widespread attention or relating to some event that happened during it.

So, here are the 2019 Words of the Year:

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Pilot’s Lounge: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I recently did a podcast with my niece, Ania Wilton on the slang of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In their podcast Pilot’s Lounge, Ania and her cousin Chelsea Pula discuss the pilots, i.e., first episodes, of television series. This was a bonus episode where Ania and I sat down, sipped some scotch, and talked about the language used in Buffy.

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RIP, John Algeo (1930–2019)

John Algeo, linguist and professor emeritus at the University of Georgia, has passed. He will be missed. A former president of the American Dialect Society and editor of American Speech, he started the “Among the New Words” column in that journal that traced the appearance of neologisms in English.

Here is his obituary from the Bowling Green (Kentucky) Daily News.

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Update: Friday, 22 November 2019

The University of Illinois Press has given permission for me to post a pre-publication copy of the paper which will appear in an upcoming issue of JEGP (tentatively October 2020, 119.4).

A pdf of the paper can be downloaded from here.

The raw data, in the form an Excel spreadsheet, can downloaded from here.

The article uses linguistic corpora, ranging from the Dictionary of Old English Corpus to the Corpus of Contemporary American English, to trace the usage and senses of the term Anglo-Saxon from the early medieval period through to the present day. It shows that in the early medieval period, while the term was used on the Continent insular use prior to Norman Conquest was rare, referred only to the unified kingdom of Mercia and Wessex, and was limited to the context of royal intitulature. Following the Conquest, it disappeared from English usage before being re-borrowed from continental Latin in the late sixteenth century. And starting at the turn of the nineteenth century it began to be applied to contemporary contexts, first as politico-cultural marker for things English or British, and shortly afterward as an ethno-racial marker. Present-day use of Anglo-Saxon, even in academic circles, is usually not as a reference to the pre-Conquest era, but rather as a contemporary identity label, usually as a marker of whiteness, or as a politico-cultural marker for the global dominance of U.S./British cultural, political, and economic institutions and policies. While the use of the term as an identity label is strongest in North America, such use makes up a substantial percentage of British usage as well.

The results of this study have implications for how the field of medieval studies, and studies of pre-Conquest England in particular, use Anglo-Saxon. Not only is the term analytically problematic because it conflates ethnically and politically distinct peoples in the pre-Conquest era, but its present-day use as a ethno-racial identity marker inevitably associates the field with race and whiteness at a time when the field is striving to break from its roots in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century, ethno-nationalist thinking.

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