Tonight in the grand ballrooms of a Boston Marriott, linguists and language experts and word aficionados will gather to vote on the American Dialect Society's Word of the Year. The nominations — at least for the award categories, if not for the big kahuna award — have been made. Between now and 5:30 p.m., when the event begins, all we have to do is consider those words and to wait in suspense. Will the ultimate #WOTY honor go to the much-discussed and much-decried initialism YOLO? Or perhaps to mansplaining, or to the shortlisted fiscal cliff? Will a dark-horse candidate like cray-cray win and surprise us all? Probably not. But anything could happen! Note, per the American Dialect Society, "In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead, they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining."
In advance of tonight's meeting, which is open to the public, the Society has issued a list of nominations for what linguist and language columnist Ben Zimmer, who is chair of the New Words Committee for ADS, calls "the 'lesser' categories": most useful, most likely to succeed, most outrageous, and so on. Regardless of any personal feelings you might have about the words therein, the list itself is a fascinating glimpse into our year in words. As for what to expect tonight, Zimmer tells us, "At the big event, we'll vote for winners in those categories and then open it up for nominations in the main WOTY category. The nominees may come from the various other categories, or they might be new nominations, not on our curent list. (In past years, app and tweet have won WOTY after getting nominated from the floor.)"
Unlike last year, when occupy was the clear favorite, for 2012 there's no obvious front-runner. Zimmer's money is on fiscal cliff and YOLO as "most likely to make it to the final round of voting," but he caveats that, saying, "these things are hard to predict!"
Jesse Sheidlower, president of the Society, will be live-tweeting the event; follow him and @AmericanDialect for updates. We'll be back to weigh in on the word of the year once the votes are tallied. For now, enjoy this list of the categories and nominations to be voted on. Some you surely know; others are new to our ears at least. Like ... gate lice. Bold words designate my personal favorites.
beardruff: "dandruff from one’s beard"; who knew!?
alpacalypse: "the Mayan apocalypse predicted for Dec. 21, 2012 (alpaca + -lypse)"
gate lice: "airline passengers who crowd around a gate waiting to board"
dancelexia: "inability to pull off dance moves (such as misspelling 'YMCA')"
HD: "abbreviation for high-definition, used for things that could not be high-definition"
feels: "slangy shortening of 'feelings'
Dunlop effect: "when one’s stomach protrudes over ill-fitting pants," as in “belly done lop over the belt”
Gray Thursday:"name given to Thanksgiving as a shopping day before Black Friday"
ratchet: "slang term originally referring to 'urban divas' now used to mean 'ghetto'
MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED
MOOC: "acronym for 'massive open online course'
LEAST LIKELY TO SUCCEED
Windows Metro: "name originally used for the Windows 8 operating system"
phablet: "mid-sized electronic device between a smartphone and a tablet"
Romney/Obama: "names of candidates used for blends (Obamaloney, Obamageddon, Romnesia, Romney Hood)"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.