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

"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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