December 28, 2003
What We Said and What We Meant, A to Z
N a sense, we are what we speak. Good thing the English language, the world's largest at some 650,000 words and growing, is eminently adaptable to the way people change.
This year, adapt it did - quickly and often with wit - to modern war, economic uncertainty, technological progress, social change, you name it.
Herewith, an alphabet soup of coinages that came on the radar screen in 2003. Many appeared in this newspaper; others were noted on wordspy.com, a Web site by Paul McFedries, a Toronto writer and linguaphile.
Some words are not new but took on new meanings, while others simply attracted unusual attention or gained wider currency.
A is for augments - people with implants that increase sensory capacity, like hearing, or change appearance, like breast implants.
B is for bling-bling, the hip-hop term for diamonds and other jangly ostentation - a word now so common that, according to news reports this year, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary were considering adding it to their next edition. B is also for blogosphere - the realm of bloggers, those who maintain Web logs of frequently updated entries on particular topics.
C is for celebreality - a TV show format in which one or more celebrities participate in real-life situations. (Think Paris Hilton on "The Simple Life.")
D is for dramality - a television show or series with elements of both drama and reality programming. (As in "AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL, a Dramality Series to Determine The Nation's Next Supermodel," - PRNewswire, Jan. 12, 2003.)
E is for embed - a journalist placed in a military unit during the American takeover of Iraq to cover its activities.
F is for flash mob - a large group of people who gather in one location, usually organized in advance via e-mail or cellphone, to perform some brief action and then quickly disperse. ("In S“o Paulo, Brazil, people took off their shoes and banged them on the street. In one of New York's six flash mobs, the crowd dutifully followed instructions to mimic bird calls in Central Park for 20 seconds." - The Week in Review, Aug. 17.)
G is for globesity - the worldwide epidemic of obesity, a term coined by the World Health Organization in 2001 that this year became huge.
H is for ham - an ordinary e-mail message blocked because it includes one or more keywords common to spam, or unsolicited junk e-mail. (As in, "one person's spam is another person's 'ham,' hacker-speak for desirable e-mail." - The Associated Press, Jan. 17, quoting a scientist.)
I is for imperial overstretch - the extension of an empire beyond its abilities. (As in: "Might Washington, like Rome, fall victim to imperial overstretch?" - The Sunday Mail of London, Oct. 12.)
J is for job-loss recovery - a form of economic growth in which the total number of jobs in the economy decreases. Related to, but not to be confused with, a jobless recovery, which simply fails to create new jobs.
K is for knee-mail - religion's computer-age, tongue-in-cheek word for prayer, often seen on signs outside churches: God answers knee-mail.
L is for latex - one of numerous words that some would consider benign but that nevertheless sets off Internet pornography blockers.
M is for masstige - a term combining mass and prestige and describing consumer products that are comparatively low-priced with a prestigious brand name. M is also for metrosexual, an urban male who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance (likely to engage in manscaping, the artful shaving and trimming of a man's body hair).
N is for nicotini - a nicotine-laced martini that some restaurants introduced after they were forced to ban smoking.
O is for odortype - the genetically determined smell unique to each person. Government scientists are studying odortype as a possible identification tool in the war on terror.
P is for pococurante - meaning indifferent, a word that Sai R. Gunturi of Dallas spelled correctly to win this year's Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee.
Q is for quirkyalone - a person who enjoys being single and who'd rather wait for the right person to come along than date indiscriminately. Q is also for quagmire, an old word that some think now has new life in Iraq.
R is for rumint (ROOM-int) - intelligence based on rumors rather than facts, which some believe led to faulty conclusions about Iraqi weapons programs.
S is for shock and awe - a term used by the American military to describe its strategy in Iraq, unleashing swift and overwhelming force early in a conflict to defeat the enemy quickly. S is also for slog, to plod one's way perseveringly, especially against difficulty (perhaps when caught in a quagmire; see Q above). And spider hole, a term popularized during the Vietnam War, but now used to describe Saddam Hussein's last hiding place.
T is for tell-some - a memoir revealing private or sensitive information, but only up to a point. (As in " 'Living History,' Hillary Clinton's political 'tell-some' book." - The San Jose Mercury News, June 10.)
U is for unilateral - an independent journalist, a war correspondent covering the Iraq war who was not officially sanctioned by the military. (See E is for embed).
V is for video pill - a camera the size of a pill that, when ingested, transmits images from a person's stomach and intestinal tract.
W is for Wal-Mart effect - the economic impact of the retail chain, from forcing smaller competitors out of business and driving down wages to keeping goods cheap, inflation low and productivity high.
X is for xenozoonosis (zee-noh-zoh-AWN-uh-sis) - a disease transmitted from an animal to a human after the transplantation of an animal organ.
Y is for yottabyte - or a million trillion megabytes, a term likely to become more popular as online data and computer memories expand in coming years to fill that amount of storage space.
Z is for zorbing - a new sport much noted this year, from New Zealand. In zorbing, a person is strapped inside a large sphere, which is itself held inside a larger sphere by a cushion of air (the whole thing's called a zorb) and then rolled along the ground or, better yet, downhill.
Which, it can only be hoped, is not where the English language is headed in 2004.