And the 2011 winners are…

2 Dec

It’s December, and you know what that means – stressing about another year having passed while your goals are inexplicably further away than ever! No? Just me then? Ahem, moving on…

December is when the when lexicographers unveil their words of the year. Exciting times!

The Oxford English Dictionary gave us a shortlist of 10 words, each one chosen to reflect the ethos – or “flavour” – of 2011. Different lists were made for UK and US audiences, but the chosen word of the year was the same for both countries: ‘squeezed middle’. (It’s worth noting that the OED recognises two-word expressions as compounds, which is why it’s counted as one word.)

So what does this title-winning word mean, according to the OED?

squeezed middle

Squeezed middle: the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes, and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty, consisting principally of those people on low or middle incomes.

Or, as Ed Miliband, the British MP who coined the word, explains: “[The squeezed middle is] around the average income, but below and above the average income.”

Right, just about everyone then.

Some of the other words on the OED list are to be expected in current times: ‘occupy’, ‘ the 99%’, ‘crowdfunding’… and, somewhat randomly, Berlusconi’s ‘bunga bunga’.

But that’s just the OED. The team came to a different conclusion for its word of the year, choosing a word that “aptly defines the spirit of 2011, even if the choice is obscure”. And obscure it was – drum roll please…

Tergiversate: to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.

Try to work ‘tergiversate’ into a conversation today!

Meanwhile, in Holland, it was a democratic process, with the public visiting the Dutch Institute of Lexicology website to vote on words. Their winner? ‘Wild knitting’, which is the practice of knitting items to cover poles, trees, statues and other public items. You might also know it as yarn bombing or street/graffiti knitting.

The Dutch runner-up was also interesting – it was ‘infobesity’, the word used to describe what happens when you overdose on information gleaned through the wonders of modern technology.

So there you go! As my mother is fond of saying, “You learn something new every day.” Well, she doesn’t say the learned information will always be helpful.


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