Words of 2003

It seems as if every linguistic group or web site comes up with its own annual list of words of significance for that year. So why should we be any different? What follows is a selection of words that we believe exemplifies and symbolizes 2003. While some of these words and phrases were coined in 2003, most were not. But they all represent some aspect of the past year.

axis of weasel, n., those countries which led opposition to the war in Iraq, especially France and Germany. Interestingly, the phrase was first coined on Usenet 2002 referring to Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. In 2003, the term was either picked up or re-coined with the newer meaning. The term is a play on Bush’s “axis of evil.”

Bennifer, n., a 2003 vogue term for celebrity couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.

coalition of the willing, n., those countries prepared go to war in Iraq, i.e., US, UK, Spain, Australia, and Italy. President Bush coined the term in November 2002.

CrackBerry, n., jocular nickname of the handheld, BlackBerry email device, so called because use of a BlackBerry and the ability to access email anywhere is addictive like crack cocaine, 2001.

curse of the Bambino, n., 2003 was another one of despair for the Boston Red Sox, who have not won a World Series since they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.

debaathification, n., the process of removing Baath party officials from positions of influence in Iraq. The term dates back to at least the first Iraq war in 1992 and is modeled on the denazification of Germany in the 1940s.

downer cow, n., cattle that cannot walk because it is injured or sick for some reason. The term, which dates to at least 1994, rose to prominence in December 2003 with the discovery of a BSE-infected cow in Oregon.

embed, embedded, n. & adj., a journalist who lives an travels with a military unit, accepting certain restrictions on what can be reported for access. The term is Pentagon jargon dating to 1995. The antonym, unilateral, did not catch on in the public consciousness.

fauxmosexual, n., a fashion-conscious, heterosexual male, a blend of faux + homosexual. Cf. metrosexual.

flash mob, n., a spontaneous, electronically-organized gathering in a public place for no particular purpose, a play on flash flood.

freedom fries, n., a term that epitomizes mindless, flag-waving patriotism, after an attempt by several US Representatives to rename French fries in the House cafeteria in protest of French opposition to the war.

GITMO, abbrev., Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Long a standard military abbreviation, this term came to public consciousness with the use of this base as a prison for those captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world.

Governator, n., jocular term for Arnold Schwarzenegger, a blend of governor + terminator.

-izzle, affix, used in a jocular faux-dialect similar to Pig Latin. The final syllable in a word is dropped and –izzle added in its place, e.g., fo’ sho’ becomes fo’ shizzle. The practice was started and popularized by rapper Calvin “Snoop Dogg” Broadus in 2001, but reached mainstream culture in the past year.

kinetic, going kinetic, kinetic targeting, adj., v.phr., & n., military slang opening fire or dropping bombs on a target, cf. soft targeting, or the dropping of leaflets on a target or location.

mad cow, n., popular name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), 1989. The first case of mad cow in the United States was discovered in December 2003.

manscape, v., shaving and grooming of male body hair, coined on the TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, after landscaping.

metrosexual, n., a fauxmosexual.

MOAB, abbrev., acronym officially standing for mass ordnance air blast or, popularly, mother of all bombs, a 21,000 lb bomb fielded in 2003, the acronym also has Biblical associations.

old Europe, n., the traditional US allies in Europe, esp. France and Germany, as opposed to the new allies like Poland and the Czech Republic. Old Europe generally opposed the US/British war in Iraq, while new Europe generally supported the war. Coined by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

phishing, n., a method of gathering financial or Internet account information by sending fraudulent emails to people asking for the information, a variant of fishing, influenced by phreaking. The term and practice date to at least 1996, but rose to prominence in 2003 when several major banks were victims of phishing expeditions.

punk’d, part., describes the victim of a practical joke, from the name of a 2003 MTV program that featured practical jokes played on celebrities.

quagmire, n., used in 2003 as a reference to the war in Iraq by those who believed it would lead to a bloody, unresolved mess. The term hearkens back to Vietnam.

queer eye, n., fashion sense, esp. that stereotypically exhibited by gay men, from the name of the 2003 television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, where a team of five gay men perform a make over on a heterosexual man.

recall, n. & v., political practice in some US states that allows the removal of elected officials through petition and vote. The term dates to 1902, but the practice was little used until 2003 when California governor Gray Davis was removed from office in this manner.

roadmap, n., business jargon for a plan, in 2003 it was used as the name for a Middle East peace plan proposed by the US, Russia, the EU, and the UN.

SARS, abbrev., Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a new respiratory disease, similar to influenza, that was epidemic in 2003.

sex-up, v., to make something more interesting or compelling than it actually is. In 2003 British PM Tony Blair and his government were accused of sexing up an intelligence dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Originally a slang term meaning to add sexual content to a manuscript, 1942, it evolved to mean a more generic form of interest.

shock and awe, n., a US military strategy of demonstrating the futility of further resistance through a sudden and massive bombing campaign. Coined in 1996 by Pentagon strategists, the term came to prominence during the air war over Iraq.

SITCOM, abbrev., jocular term meaning single income, two children, oppressive mortgage, referring to a couple where one parent stays home to care for children, cf. DINK, double income no kids. The term dates to 1996.

sixteen words, n., no compilation of words associated with 2003 would be complete with reference to the infamous sixteen words spoken by President Bush in the February 2003 State of the Union message. “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” The evidence alluded to in the statement was based on a patently obvious hoax which had already been discounted by the US intelligence community.

soft berets, n., British term for signaling non-hostile intent by doffing helmets in favor of berets. 

spam, n., while hardly unique to 2003, electronic spam reached epidemic proportions this past year.

spider-hole, n., a fighting position dug into the group, esp. one used by a sniper, from the metaphorical extension of the lair of a trapdoor spider. The term dates to 1941 in military jargon and came to prominence in 2003 when the term was applied to Saddam Hussein’s hiding place. This popular usage is somewhat different than the traditional military use. The traditional sense is a place where one lies in wait to spring an ambush. Only time will tell if this new sense of a hiding place catches on.

tadpole, n. & v., a young male lover of an older woman, to take on a young male lover, e.g., Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, from a 2002 movie of that title and theme.

taikonaut, n., a Chinese astronaut. In 2003 China launched its first manned spacecraft. The term, however, dates to 2000.

yuppie food stamp, n., jocular term for a $20 bill from an ATM that gained popularity in 2003, after food stamp, the term for the US government assistance coupons. From 1996.

zhuzh, v., to arrange hair or clothing, coined on the TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

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