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Honk Honk! Words-of-the-year Season Commences

Say! Fellas and gals, here's another newsletter from A Way with Words.

This past weekend we reran a crowd-pleasing episode from earlier this year, in which we discussed "suicide sodas," how to politely tell someone her slip is showing, and "pwn," a bit of online gaming slang. Listen again here:


This morning we also posted an online-only podcast by Martha, in which she muses on the etymological web that connects gossamer, spiders, geese, and warm weather in late autumn.


We're coming up on the word of the year season and to kick it off, Oxford University Press in the US has named its word of the year: "hypermiling."

In a dictionary entry he wrote last year, Grant defined "to hypermile" as "to take extraordinary measures toward achieving maximum fuel efficiency in an automobile." OUP has defined it as "to attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques."

We think the choice of "hypermiling" for word of the year is not a particularly enlightened one, given that it dates to 2004 and that it's not that widespread (outside of a few people who obsessively practice hypermiling and the press coverage of it). But we suppose it captures the idea that, over the last year, Americans have been more conscious than ever of the need for fuel efficiency.

The Oxford University Press announcement, which includes runners-up like "frugalista" and "luchador," is here:


Grant's entry at his Double-Tongued Dictionary, which dates the term back to 2004, is here:


We now invite you to submit your own "word of the year" (or "WOTY") nominations now through the end of the year. We'll accept two- or three-word phrases, too, especially if they behave like compounds--"hockey mom" is an acceptable WOTY nomination, as is "driving while texting."

What word has so far most captured the essence of 2008 for you? What expression really seems to embody the spirit of these times? Is there a phrase you keep hearing or reading which always seems so perfectly "right now"? Let us know! Send us an email to words@waywordradio.org. Be sure to explain what the word means and why you think it's a great choice for "word of the year."

Remember, we're not looking for your language grudges or your all-time most-petted peeves. We're looking for the words or phrases that help paint the whole picture of 2008.

In the coming weeks, we'll be talking about your nominations, and our own, on the air.

By the way, Grant also does an annual word of the year piece in the New York Times and he's part of the new words committee of the American Dialect Society, which holds the longest-running "word of the year" vote in the world. He'll be considering your nominations for those lists, too! (And he'll give you a sneak peek of some of the ones he's already considering in a future episode.)

In the news over the last week:

British writer Jeremy Butterfield (not "Oxford researchers," as reported in far too many places) compiled a list of what he considers to be the most irritating expressions:


The Toronto Star follows up on the data gathered by Joe Clark, as we previously noted here, in which he demonstrates that Canadian English is maltreated by the spellcheckers in major software.


And, once again, Jan Freeman has written a column worth reading. She follows up on the Supreme Court's consideration of the "F-word."


Best wishes,

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett

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