Posted on Sun, Dec. 26, 2004

This year, we blaused to TiVo a wardrobe malfunction
What's the good word for '04? Linguists vote.

Inquirer Staff Writer

Are you a technosexual? Do you TiVo? Do you blog so much you need a blause?

Are you John Kerry and did you approve this message?

As the annual word-of-the-year showdown approaches, these are the questions - or at least the phrases - that consume the linguists of our land, a place that in 2004 was incessantly described as composed of red states and blue states.

The year's new words reflect the dichotomy of the times, from the ridiculous to the somber.

Janet Jackson experienced her dubious wardrobe malfunction. Soldiers in Iraq complained of having to up-armor their humvees by scrounging for scrap-metal hillbilly armor.

And in the land of purple - defined either as a swing/battleground state or the more ephemeral state of everyone putting aside their red-and-blue differences - people were inundated with what linguist Wayne Glowka calls "the proclaimer."

By Election Day, even 7-year-olds could sarcastically bark back to the TV: "Yes. You are John Kerry/George W. Bush. And you do approve this message."

"Now that's got to be the phrase of the year," wrote Glowka, chair of the American Dialect Society's New Words Committee, in an e-mail that contained his nominations for the society's word of the year. The group will vote Jan. 7.

But the early line seems to favor red state/blue state - shorthand for the country's cultural and political divide - or its purple state corollary. Clearly, it was a year in which both headlines and language were dominated by politics and war.

And also by body parts - in particular, the unmasking of the female breast, which led to the "wardrobe malfunction," and its offspring: boobgate, nipplegate, Janet moment and mammogrammy. A lawsuit against Hooters produced breastaurant.

Soldiers brought back the phrase backdoor draft and stop loss to describe ways the government was getting soldiers in Iraq and keeping them there. And they worried about being IEDed - struck by an Improvised Explosive Device.

"They've taken the acronym and verbed it, which is generally a sign of acceptance," said Grant Barrett, project editor of the Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

Insurgents was the all-too-common term for Iraqi rebels, who themselves adopted martyrdom operations for their suicide bombings.

The political ground war brought us 527s, independent groups that ran political ads reviving terms like Swift Boat and flip-flop. (The flip-flop, once a cool surfer accessory, took on overtones more associated with girlie men, a phrase Glowka nominates for "best revival of an old term.")

It was a year in which we met the balloon wrangler, the guy who directs the balloon drop - or lack thereof - at the end of a party's political convention.

And there was the Dean Scream.

On, where anyone can define anything, a Dean Scream is defined as "when you overreact to a small setback with an exaggerated display of emotion."

Anarchists saw a flurry of attention as they protested political conventions with fake dollar bills called Hallibacon. And when they landed in jail in New York, where the Republicans met, they dubbed it Guantanamo on the Hudson or Little Gitmo - references to the U.S. detainee camp in Cuba.

When Martha Stewart went to jail, though, it was to a place called Camp Cupcake, an addition to the lexicon of celebrity justice. And she became a verb, as in: "I Martha-ed up my living room."

Suffix-wise, says David Barnhart, editor of the Barnhart Dictionary Companion, 2004 saw the growing popularity of -dar, as in gaydar - and bidar (which the blue-stated constituents of New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey discovered they either had or hadn't).

Last year, the American Dialect Society chose metrosexual as its word of the year, with blog as runner-up.

This year, the technosexual has emerged, defined by Jeffrey O'Brien, editor of Wired Magazine, as "a guy who dresses sharp and has the latest smartphone. Rarely seen in the wild."

Technosexuals say such things as "I'll ping you later," an all-encompassing word for contact that could mean, for instance, phone, e-mail or text message.

They might suggest attending a mp3Jing, where Poddicts share what's on their iPods. And they do not want SPIM - spam sent via instant message - or SPIT, spam sent via Internet telephone.

Sometimes the catchiest phrases fade out quickest.

Some linguists believe that wardrobe malfunction deserves a short shelf life, along with Donald Trump's catch phrase "You're fired!," which already seems to have faded, in a voted-off-the-island sort of way.

Scoffs linguist Barrett, of the Donald's big line: "The promoters of that phrase spent more time promoting it as a catch phrase than it actually spent as one."

Being from New York, though, Barrett likes the chances of "Who's Your Daddy?" a phrase chanted by Yankees fans after Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez lost some key late-season games and said: "Call the Yankees my daddy; I can't find a way to beat them at this point." The daddy calls should continue, especially now that Martinez has now signed on with the Mets.

Erin McKean, dictionaries editor at Oxford University Press, nominates erototoxin as the year's most outrageous and unnecessary term. It was coined by an anti-pornography activist testifying before a Senate committee in November, and describes supposed "mind-altering drugs produced by the viewer's own brain."

In 2004, fans of rapper Fat Joe and Terror Squad latched onto the phrase lean back, a dance move for those who don't dance: shrugging one shoulder, then the next, to the beat. "Lean back" also became a way of suggesting someone relax. (Blausing - taking a pause from blogging - would be a first step.)

Which is what we can do now that we're post-Chrismukkah, a term for interfaith families' holiday celebrations popularized by the television show The O.C. - and surely morphing into Chrismukkwanzaa at this very moment. Though some Chrismukkah-philes say they have been accused of being syncretists: people who try to unite principles or parties which are irreconcilably at odds.

Sort of like being purple.

Contact staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at 215-854-2681 or

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