What were the words of the year for 2014? If one were to believe the Merriam- Webster and Oxford dictionaries respectively, they were “culture” and “vape”.
Call us skeptical. But, based upon our totally unscientific and non-random survey of the two of us, we think not.
In our opinion, there could have been other appropriate choices for 2014. Before we go there, however, let’s take a quick look at the Merriam-Webster and Oxford selections.
The Oxford Dictionaries defined the verb “vape” as “to inhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.”
Vape? We were more than a bit befuddled by Oxford’s designation of it as word of the year.
Then, we realized that Oxford may have just been “blowing vape” or smoking something stronger or stranger than an electronic cigarette when it selected this term. This hypothesis was confirmed when we looked at the runner-ups on Oxford’s consideration list: bae; budtender; contactless, indyref; normcore; and slacktivism.
Call us old fashioned, but none of those newly minted words is in our vocabulary. And, we doubt seriously whether any or many of them are in common usage among those tech savvy, selfie-taking, instagram-sending members of the millennial generation.
Merriam-Webster (M-W) was much more traditional than Oxford naming “culture” as its word. In the release announcing its top ten words for 2014, M-W explained they were compiled “by analyzing the top lookups in the online dictionary at Merriam-Webster.com and focusing on the words that showed the greatest increase in lookups this year as compared to last year.”
In addition to “culture”, the other words on M-W’s list, in order, were: nostalgia, insidious, legacy, feminism, je ne sais quoi, innovation, surreptitious, autonomy, and morbidity.
As folks who sometimes wane a little “nostalgic”, we were much more familiar and a bit more comfortable with M-W’s list than Oxford’s list.
We should say that we have no quarrel with either M-W’s or Oxford’s words given their selection criteria. The question becomes whether there are alternative words that might be just as suitable as “word of the year” – and perhaps even more-so – to characterize issues of importance or activities that were transcendent in 2014.
The answer, in our opinion, is yes. That’s because the word of the year depends on the frame of reference. Dictionaries are just one of those frames and may or may not fully capture the word that is most relevant for a particular year.
Other words that were nominated for 2014 come from a variety of sources: Barbara King writing in an NPR blog advanced “privileged” as her nominee based upon the national discussion around “white privilege”. Dictionary.com selected “exposure” in order to tie together big news stories like the Ebola scare and Ferguson.
In a Huffington blog we posted late in the year, based upon the unexpected success of Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book, Capital in the 21st Century and considerable national conversation we stated that,”‘…inequality’ might be chosen as word of the year for 2014″
We also wrote another blog in that same time period titled “The United States of Fear: From Ebulliant to Eboliant.” Although we didn’t nominate “fear” at that time, it strikes us now that it might have been an appropriate epithet to describe 2014 – the year of fear.
There is no definitive answer for the word of the year and that word will vary from individual to individual based upon one’s personal perspective and predilections.
You might already have your word for 2014 in mind. If you don’t, and are interested in choosing one, consider the following list of the most frequent Google searches for 2014 to stimulate “year” thinking.
The top 10 most popular Google searches were:
1. Robin Williams
2. World Cup
4. Malaysia Airlines
5. Flappy Bird
6. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Okay, readers have at it! Given this retrospective, or your own ability for total recall of the year gone past, what is your nominee? Please let us know and why
We won’t venture our word now but will do so in a later blog. In due deference to the dictionaries that gave rise to this piece, however, we have constructed two sentences employing all of their words
Using the Oxford Dictionaries words:
- In an act of slacktivism, the budtender sent the patrons wearing normcore their joints electronically so they could vape and with due appreciation they thanked their erstwhile bae and paid in a contactless manner.
Using the Merriam-Webster words:
- With a sense of je ne sais quoi and a little nostalgia, feminism returned to the American scene not as an insidious or surreptitious act or innovation but as part of a legacy of assertiveness to prove that female sufficiency has not led to morbidity but to a form of autonomy that is embraced now even in the pop culture.
Now, those may not be the sentences for 2014, but we would guess they are the only two sentences with all of the words. While they may be clumsy and our English teachers would definitely not approve, we wrote and present them to reflect facetiously upon 2014 and in an effort to kick this New Year of 2015 off in a spirit of good humor.
More seriously, our fondest wish for the top words for 2015 is the same as that we expressed in a blog about a year ago for those words for 2014. That is they become “peace, love and understanding”.
Some may call that wishful thinking – especially given the tragic events in Paris in the first full week of this New Year. We call it “aspirational”.
Given the world-wide display of unity and solidarity in response to the villainous and outrageous acts perpetrated by the terrorists at Charlie Hebdo, this aspiration may be just a little bit closer to becoming a reality.
That’s because there is a new understanding but no appreciation of whom these perpetrators really are. That understanding could lead to a coming together to vanquish those who function in a rule-less and reckless manner against the civilized world.
We recognize that cannot be accomplished through “peace” and “love’. On the other hand, we realize it will create a global context for more “peace” and “love.”
With this in mind, we leave you with these uplifting thoughts for 2015 and each New Year going forward borrowed from cartoonist Bill Watterson in his last strip on December 31, 1995 for his brilliant Calvin and Hobbes series,
– Hobbes: “The world looks brand new.”
– Calvin: “A New Year….a fresh, clean start.”
– Hobbes: “It’s like having a big white sheet to draw on.”
– Calvin: “A day full of possibilities.”
– Calvin: “It’s a magical world, Hobbes old buddy….lets go exploring.”
(Thanks to columnist Lauren Rudd for reminding us of this wonderfully positive perspective in his Money column for the Sarasota Herald Tribune on January 1, 2015.)