dictionary

Word of the Year: So…

amber traffic lightYeah, no

Word of The Year Merriam-Webster and others

It’s just come out that Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is justice. Fair enough. You can imagine plenty of people saying justice in the US this year. For varying reasons, but quite urgently if they’re being strangulated by a couple of cops for sitting on a crate in an unseemly manner or walking home with some cat food.

On the other hand, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, word of the year is toxic. They’re well behind there. Toxic was overused years ago. Inc.com (don’t ask) ran a reminder of ten toxic words to avoid in the workplace in 2015. The word had entered the swim lanes of business jargon over three years ago.

And if a word has entered the granular content of business jargon it means it is already tired of life. Anyway, Britney released Toxic in 2004. There’s your driver of linguistic change.

The real word of the year is ‘so’. First it replaced ‘yeah, no’ as a preamble to replies (You really work in the Hobnobs factory? Yeah, no, I monitor the machine that checks for imperfect biscuits) and then it became a general sentence-starter and then, worst of all, a general conversation-starter. What have you been up to? So I was walking down to get some Monster Munch, and I bumped into Nicky Campbell. You hear it on the news, and Pointless, and in the pub all the time.

I miss yeah, no. It was fun and flighty, with an implied exclamation mark, but it has completely dropped out of vogue. Yeah, no’s illogical, meaningless contradiction is just too frivolous and decadent for an era of global fretting. So adds gravitas and self-importance to weightless statements, implying you’d be reckless to try to contradict whatever follows.

It’s possible that, bucking the trend, this one started off in the bandwidth of business jargon and reached out to us from there. I first heard it from some office doofus doing a presentation at a ‘town hall’ meeting about how he’d made an insignificant amendment to an app. He just stood up and said, So we’ve tweaked the app. What we did was –

As if it was an important consequence of serious consideration of a weighty matter. There are too many timewasting presentations at town hall meetings. If they were to spread beyond the world of the whiteboard, to the likes of the Kwik Fit shop floor, the economy would crash. So we’ve balanced the wheels on this Peugeot. What we did was –

Back with the self-appointed arbiters, apart from justice and toxic, the Collins dictionary puts up single-use. Bit dull.

Where is the democracy in words of the year? Merriam-Webster might be founded in 1928 and self-identifying as America’s most-trusted online dictionary, but who makes the call? Some kind of committee probably.

The Cambridge axis democratically calls their choice the People’s Word of the Year, and says it is voted for by fans from New York to London to Tokyo. The winner is nomophobia, which sounds like someone just made it up right now. But the people have spoken, so it must be right.

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