Hockey mom? Staycation? Recessionista? What’s your choice for Word of the Year 2008? Also, what expression do you use to describe when it’s raining but the sun is still shining?

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It’s that time again, when people start thinking about a new or resurgent word or phrase that best captures the spirit of the past year. And what a year! We heard the words “bailout” and “lipstick” more times than we’d ever dreamed, and saw also the rise of invented words like “staycation” and “recessionista.” What are your nominations for 2008’s Word of the Year?

Do English-speaking foreigners understand you better if you speak English with a foreign accent? A Californian says that on a recent visit to Armenia, he discovered the locals had an easier time if he spoke English with an Armenian accent. Is this okay or could it be seen as condescending?

Buckaroo is an English word adapted from the Spanish word vaquero, meaning “cowboy.” Is there a specific term for the linguistic process whereby such words are adapted into English?

Martha nominates another Word of the Year candidate: Joe the, as in “Joe the Plumber,” and subsequent variations on the “X the Y” formula arising from a certain drain-fixer’s quarter-hour of fame.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski stops by with a quiz about superlatives. Naturally, his name for the quiz is Best. Puzzle. Ever.

Why do we say someone’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed? Your chipper, chattering hosts are ready with the sciurine answer.

An Indiana woman shudders every time anyone uses the expression comprised of. She wants to know if she’s right that it’s bad grammar, and more important, is she right to be a stickler about it?

Martha and Grant discuss some other Word of the Year candidates, including hockey mom and hypermiling.

The term Chinese fire drill can mean either a “state of confusion” or the adoloscent ritual involving a red light and a carful of rowdy teenagers. But a caller who overheard the expression at work worries that expression might be racist.

This week’s slang quiz challenges a Seattle video game designer to pick out the correct slang terms from a mishmash of possible answers, including hammantaschen, party party, play pattycake, and get off.

In 2008, is using the term jive turkey politically incorrect, or just a little dorky-sounding? A Las Vegas schoolteacher jokingly used it with her students, then had second thoughts. Grant sets her mind at ease.

It’s raining, it’s pouring, but the sun is still shining. Quick—what do you call that? Some folks refer to it a sunshower, and others call it a monkey’s wedding. But a woman says her Southern-born mother used a much more unnerving expression: The devil’s beating his wife. Martha and Grant discuss the possible origins of this expression and its variants, like The devil is beating his wife and the angels are crying. Around the world, this meteorological phenomenon goes by an astonishing range of names. In Lithuanian, the name translates as orphan’s tears. In Korean, a tiger is getting married. Here’s a list of many more, collected a few years ago by linguist Bert Vaux.

Which of the following three factors has the biggest influence on a person’s accent? Is it your geographic location, your family, or the media?

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18 Responses

  1. makfan says:

    I am not a fan of staycation. That is the only kind of vacation that my family took when I was young. We had just as much fun driving one to three hours to see nearby attractions as I do flying all over the world today. I don’t see why a special word is needed here.

  2. Oh, but makfan, don’t you think calling it a “staycation” is something of a point of pride? I love that idea, and I’m betting it catches on, at least for a while.

  3. ken pearce says:

    My initioal thought was hockey-mom, but I see you’ve already incorporated that hyphenated word. My next best (perhaps better) is a Republican reflection on Obama:
    A-Bama-nation (slightly tweekeed Abomanation).

  4. MarcNaimark says:

    Alas, Martha, what happens if the cost of fuel and generally bad economic conditions lead the “staycation” to become the norm. In that case, we may need a retronym for a “travel vacation”… that unusual kind where you actually go somewhere.

  5. Mark Hagen says:

    Hello! (Or should I say ‘hola’?)

    I enjoyed the discussion about how to pronounce English words in other languages. I speak Spanish fluently and will defend my pronunciation of English words in Spanish because it’s normally how native speakers say them. For example, a CD in Mexico is known as a “compact” (pronounced comb pahkt — long o and a as in father) and the Internet is een-terr-net (the r has a slight roll). Many English words are borrowed by Spanish and their pronunciations reflect the Spanish pronunciation of the syllabic parts. If I pronounce them with an American accent, they may not be understood. Therefore I think it is perfectly acceptable–if not necessary–to pronounce English words with a foreign accent.

    On a related note, I spent a month in Brazil earlier this fall. I was asked by a straight-faced Brazilian man of about 50 years of age whether I was related to Ronald Reagan. My last name is Hagen. It took me a few days to understand why he would have thought such a thing. Then it dawned on me… the initial ‘r’ in many Brazilian dialects is pronounced sort of like the letter ‘h’ in English. Therefore, Hagen and Reagan are pronounced alike!

  6. Tudo bom, Mark Hagen! Great story about Reagan/Hagen. Interesting reflections on Spanish. Yes, it’d be weird to be in Mexico asking to fill your car’s tank with “Naaaafta,” eh?

  7. Alas, Martha, what happens if the cost of fuel and generally bad economic conditions lead the “staycation” to become the norm. In that case, we may need a retronym for a “travel vacation”… that unusual kind where you actually go somewhere.

    Marc, I think you’re ahead of us all. I suppose it could happen. “Travel vacation” — wouldn’t that be something?

  8. Joshua Hudson says:

    Don’t we already have a “retro-nym” for travel vacation? I am pretty sure that a vacation means a period of rest, with no further expectation to its definition. Meanwhile, a “stay-cation” combines a description of that rest bit.

    While there is certainly no absolute, there is an implication that a “getaway vacation” means that there will be change of scenery as well as a rest from work or school. But if we want to be cute, why not call it a “away-cation?”

  9. Devin says:

    Hello, I am a new listener, having just received an mp3 player and I love the program. I was listening to the 11/16 episode and noticed Grant tell a gentleman on the phone that we don’t have k’s standing alone in English. As I looked over the list of episodes I haven’t listened to yet I noticed Lackabookaphobia in one of the titles and book really stood out. So I decided to try and come up with other words that have a lone k in them. Here’s my very short list: book, look, took, shook, nook, Kaleidoscope, knickerbockers, knick-knack, kleptomania, king, knight, kit. Here’s a website with unusual k words: http://phrontistery.info/k.html. I’m loving the show and look forward to the new ones as well as making my way through the old ones!

  10. Right, Devin, I didn’t say exactly what I meant there. What I mean was is that after an A that isn’t long, English tends not to have the letter K standing without another consonant.

  11. Precise Edit says:

    For what it’s worth, we’ll weigh in on “Comprised of.” Yes, Ms. Indiana Woman, you should shudder and you should be a sticker about it. The correct term is “composed of.”

    “Comprise” means to gather together into a whole. For example, “Congress comprises many personality types.” “Compose” means to break apart a whole to describe its parts. “Congress is composed of many personality types.” [These are "working definitions," not official definitions.] The most important difference, from an editorial standpoint, is the emphasis on the whole or on the parts.

    The English language comprises many words, and the language is composed of many words.

  12. desertpete01 says:

    Hey Mark, I mean Señor Jéigon, what part of Mex do you live in? Here in TJ it’s “un cidí” (spelled “un CD”).

    But then, TJ Spanish is more like Amspan (the emerging seldom-heard-outside-the-US form of Spanish).

  13. Beverly A. says:

    Actually, the term for bad Spanish is “pocho.” I lived in Mexico for over six years and have been closely associated with Spanish-speaking people for nearly forty years. I live near Houston TX where most of the Spanish-speaking people are Mexicans, either born there or born of parents born there. I frequently have opportunity to cringe at the bad pronunciation or the made up words I hear. I immediately review in my mind the correct term. I don’t want to lose the hard work I did and continue to do to speak the language correctly. One term I’m not sure of is the use of the word Internet without an article, ie: Vi en Internet algo. I am sure it is correct but don’t know why.
    Beverly A.

  14. Joshua, I like “awaycation”– at the very least, I could see it catching on at least as a cutesy catch-term among marketing types.

  15. Right you are, Precise Edit. That’s pretty much what we said.

    We’ve since heard from a patent examiner who says “comprise” has a very specific meaning in patent law, which jibes with a conversation I had recently with a patent attorney. But as I mentioned, it’s a very specific application of the word.

  16. >>>> Here in TJ it’s “un cidí” (spelled “un CD”).

    Desertpete and Beverly: Don’t you just love a language that’s spelled the way it sounds?

  17. Beverly A. says:

    Yes, absolutely. Although even in Spanish there are letters that change pronunciation according to the vowel they are paired with ie: the letters C and G. I remember the proper pronunciation by repeating (for C) ka for ca, ko for co, ku for cu, say for ce and see for ci. For G it is: ga, go, goo, hay, hee (same vowel order-aouei. Then there is the seldom used oomlaut that changes the letter U. They call it ” la crema.”
    Gue with crema is guay (guero-blond or pale skinned) and without is gay (guerra-war). Approximate pronunciations here, you have to add the appropriate Spanish accent.
    I could go on ad infinitum but you get the idea.
    Beverly A.

  18. EmmettRedd says:

    >>>> Here in TJ it’s “un cidí” (spelled “un CD”).
    Desertpete and Beverly: Don’t you just love a language that’s spelled the way it sounds?

    Martha,

    There is at least one segment that deals with tanks (containers, not armor) of US English that spells the word as it sounds. There is an old tar tank less than a mile from my house with “MT” written on it.

    Emmett

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