Anne Curzan talk about the yearly vote by the American Dialect Society
In a previous module, you heard Anne Curzan talk about the yearly vote by the American Dialect Society for their ‘Word of the Year’ competition. Every year at the annual meeting of the Linguistic
Society of America, hundreds of linguists get together and vote on the word of the year.
In 2012, the winner was ‘Hashtag’ (press release).
In 2014, the winner was #BlackLivesMatter. Linguist Ben Zimmer noted in the press release that, “While #blacklivesmatter may not fit the traditional definition of a word, it demonstrates how
powerfully a hashtag can convey a succinct social message.”
In 2016, the winner was ‘dumpster fire’ and the voters in particular noted the emoji combination of ?? to denote the word. The full press release from ADS is available here. ADS defined ‘dumpster
fire’ as “an exceedingly disastrous or chaotic situation.”
In 2015, the Oxford Dictionary also chose the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji (?) as their word of the year.
In recent year’s these votes seemed to have been drifting towards nominating/choosing words of the year that look potentially less like the types of ‘words’ that we’ve been talking about here.
Based on some of the commentary provided in these press released / links from ADS and Oxford, I’d like you to think more about what constitutes a word, or when something becomes a word. Do you
think that hashtags can ultimately become words? What about emojis? What kinds of justifications did ADS and Oxford provide for their choices of the above ‘words of the year’? Does this challenge
how we’ve been conceiving words? Why or why not?