Bashing the Oxford Word of the Year: "Unfriend"

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The New Oxford American Dictionary has a history of trying to capture the pop-culture lexicon by adding new buzzwords each year. Previous additions have included terms such as "carbon neutral" and catchphrases such as Homer Simpson's "D'oh." On Monday, publisher Oxford University Press announced its choice for 2009 Word of the Year: "Unfriend." The word is used as a verb to describe the process of removing unwanted friends from online social networks. Bloggers, though, were unimpressed with the choice and the Oxford selection process in general:

  • 'Marketing Ploy'  Gawker's Adrian Chen attempts to call out the Word of the Year as a ploy: "The OUP itself all but admitted that the Word of the Year is nothing more than a silly marketing ploy. But each year, writers insist on treating it as some sort of important gauge of How We Live Now, because, you know, it's the freaking dictionary…Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go hypermile my podcast."
  • Aspiring Tech Trendspotter  Devin Coldewey at CrunchGear evaluates the choice of words as a barometer of tech trends. He takes an earnest look at how past selections have held up, concluding that Oxford's track-record is inconsistent. "Unsurprisingly, the popularity and continued pertinence of new words have been as unpredictable as the technologies they describe." But he believes that Oxford does an important service in trying to capture the zeitgeist: "Even this cursory look at the new word market shows that those terms we may dismiss as fleeting or overly specific may be the most signal of the era."
  • A Sign of Social Networks' Negative Effects  Caroline McCarthy of CNET is cynical about the pick: "Perhaps... a sign of how the plague of social media has numbed us all to the value of legitimate human connections." She concedes that it reflects the predominance of Facebook, and reminds readers that the spectacularly popular site has gone to great lengths to keep the "friending/unfriending" process sacrosanct, denying applications that encouraged mass "friending" in exchange for perks like free food.
  • Paradoxical  The choice of "Unfriend" as the Word of the Year prompts a lively point/counter-point exchange between some of the leading voices at ReadWriteWeb. Richard MacManus, the blog's founder, thinks the choice is unwise give that more people are "friending" than unfriending. Plus, he doubts that many older adults will be familiar with the term. Lead writer Marshall Kirkpatrick defends the nomination: "I think 'unfired' is a very appropriate word for the year as it fits with the way people are becoming more sophisticated in their social networking. People are deciding to do some editing of the friends lists they rushed naively into." 
  • Better than Most  At the Guardian, tech trends writer Jack Schofield was happy to see "unfriend" picked over other nominated words: "As a Twitter user, I can't say I'm sorry to see the accolade (for what it's worth) go to Facebook. The OUPblog has a list of Twittercisms and most of them are embarrassing. Tweeps, twitterati, twitterature, retweet, twibe, twitterhea etc aren't really landmarks in linguistic originality, are they? Either way, unfriend is better than last year's hypermiling, and at least they didn't pick staycation…"
  • Is 'Unfriend' Grammatically Sound?  Chicago Tribune writer Eric Zorn takes issue with the construction of the term because the prefix "un" is generally applied to adjectives. "Should ['unfriend'] be 'defriend'? I've heard both and am slightly partial to 'defriend' perhaps because I'm the sort of person who prefers 'disinvite' to 'uninvite.'" He also wonders about the appropriateness of another runner-up word, "teabaggers," initially used as crude slang, but re-appropriated by the media to describe the Tea Party protesters. As such, he offers readers two polls for or against the words.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.