Time to "Unfriend" Oxford's Word of the Year?

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"Unfriend" is the Word of the Year from the Oxford University Press, beating out nominees like paywall, funemployed and sexting (OMG OUP!). Adrian Chen points to the last five winners -- 2005: podcast; 2006: carbon neutral; 2007: locavore; 2008: hypermiling -- and concludes "these are all just hacky trend pieces from that year." Well, yes. You have rediscovered the purpose of electing a word of the year.


Merriam-Webster's words of the year are also verbal synecdoches of the year's trends -- bailout in 2008; subprime in 2007; 9-11 in 2001 (I mean, come on, that doesn't even have letters in it). At least M-W samples equally from politics, technology and pop linguistics-- Not! was 1993's choice. Oxford is a straight-up barometer of tech trends. Its words are basically just a proxy for the year's biz-tech advancements.

On a closing note, I'd like these organizations to offer two words of the year: One that everybody uses, and another that everybody should use. My nomination for 2009 (and really, the whole decade) is portmanteau, which is a word that blends two words. Increasingly the English language is coming to resemble the fundamental law of matter that mass exists in a closed system and nothing is created or destroyed, only reassembled. Sexting, blog, funemployed. The sporkification of the English language knows no end.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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