Oxford’s Word of the Year: Unfriend

Monday the New Oxford American Dictionary named “unfriend” 2009’s word of the year.

unfriend – verb – To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.

As in, “I decided to unfriend my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight.”

“It has both currency and potential longevity,” notes Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford’s US dictionary program. “In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year. Most “un-” prefixed words are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant), and there are certainly some familiar “un-” verbs (uncap, unpack), but “unfriend” is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of “friend” that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!). Unfriend has real lex-appeal.”

We’ve looked at the word “unfriend” before, and it’s not a wholly inappropriate choice. I do, however, imagine it’ll be somewhat disheartening to reflect on 2009 as the year that friendship lost its currency. Although, perhaps that’ll be better than always remembering it as the year that the dollar lost its currency.

Here are some of the runners-up. I took the liberty of coloring gray the ones I thought were stupid choices, because they’re idiotic, unremarkable or little-used in the vernacular, or, as in the cases of Ardi and death panel, a beneficiary of the recency effect.

Technology

  • hashtag – a # [hash] sign added to a word or phrase that enables Twitter users to search for tweets (postings on the Twitter site) that contain similarly tagged items and view thematic sets
  • intexticated – distracted because texting on a cellphone while driving a vehicle
  • netbook – a small, very portable laptop computer with limited memory
  • paywall – a way of blocking access to a part of a website which is only available to paying subscribers
  • sexting – the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by cellphone

Economy

  • freemium – a business model in which some basic services are provided for free, with the aim of enticing users to pay for additional, premium features or content
  • funemployed – taking advantage of one’s newly unemployed status to have fun or pursue other interests
  • zombie bank – a financial institution whose liabilities are greater than its assets, but which continues to operate because of government support

Politics and Current Affairs

  • Ardi -(Ardipithecus ramidus) oldest known hominid, discovered in Ethiopia during the 1990s and announced to the public in 2009
  • birther – a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama’s US birth certificate
  • choice mom – a person who chooses to be a single mother
  • death panel – a theoretical body that determines which patients deserve to live, when care is rationed
  • teabagger – a person who protests President Obama’s tax policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations known as “Tea Party” protests (in allusion to the Boston Tea Party of 1773

Environment

  • brown state – a US state that does not have strict environmental regulations
  • green state – a US state that has strict environmental regulations
  • ecotown – a town built and run on eco-friendly principles

Novelty Words

  • deleb – a dead celebrity
  • tramp stamp – a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman

Why is “tramp stamp” in red, you ask? I’ll answer your question with another question: Did it really take until 2009 for the word nerds at the Oxford University Press to learn of the tramp stamp? I take it none of them lives in Jersey and has a 17-year-old daughter.

OUP chose “hypermiling” last year. I’ve never heard anyone use this word. Have you? I can get behind 2007’s selection of “locavore” even as it makes me cringe, or carbon neutral and podcast the years before that.

But in the future I’m probably going to stick with the selections of The American Dialect Society, which is working on coming up with the word of the decade, to be decided in January. Their picks of the aughts:

2000 chad, a small scrap of paper punched from a voting card.
2001 9/11, terrorist attacks on September 11.
2002 weapons of mass destruction or WMD, sought for (without success) in Iraq.
2003 metrosexual, fashion-conscious heterosexual male.
2004 red/blue/purple states, red favoring conservative Republicans and blue favoring liberal Democrats, as well as the undecided purple states in the political map of the United States.
2005 truthiness, what one wishes to be the truth regardless of the facts. (From the Colbert Report on television.)
2006 to be plutoed, to pluto, to be demoted or devalued, as was the former planet Pluto.
2007 subprime, a risky or less than ideal loan or investment.
2008 bailout, rescue by government of companies on the brink of failure.

I’m going to send in a nominee coined by none other than Oxford’s Christine Lindberg (quoted above). “Lex-appeal.” Brilliant.

(PS, while we’re on the subject, Merriam-Webster picked “blog” as the word of the year in 2004. “‘Blog’ was the word that people have asked to be defined or explained most often over the last 12 months,” according to the BBC. Oh, how far we’ve come.)

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2 responses to “Oxford’s Word of the Year: Unfriend

  1. “Did it really take until 2009 for the word nerds at the Oxford University Press to learn of the tramp stamp?”

    You do have to get a girl to take her shirt off first.

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