2003 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 6 words with first citations from 2003. In that year, the United States invades and occupies Iraq; Washington Post columnist Robert Novak publishes the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame, leading to an investigation and scandal over who in the Bush administration leaked her name; California governor Gray Davis is recalled and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is elected in his place; the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates on re-entry during mission STS-107, killing all seven astronauts aboard; SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, becomes a pandemic, with over eight thousand cases and nine hundred deaths worldwide; Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is a bestseller, definitively proving that indeed there is no accounting for taste; style guru and businesswoman Martha Stewart is indicted for insider trading and obstructing justice; and the supersonic Concorde makes its last commercial flight.

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The words of 2003:

Arab Spring, n. The popular uprisings against autocratic, Arab governments began in late 2010, but the name was coined years earlier. Back in 2003 some commentators were looking forward to an Arab Spring. The name is modeled on the Prague Spring of 1968.

eggcorn, n. Mark Liberman of Language Log coined this one in 2003. An eggcorn is an alteration of a word or phrase through mishearing or reinterpretation. Thus acorn becomes eggcorn. An eggcorn differs from a folk etymology in that it has not become a standard part of the lexicon, at least not yet.

embrace the suck, c.phr. A U. S. military catchphrase that arose among the troops in Iraq, to embrace the suck is to not only accept harsh and deplorable conditions, but to turn it into a character-building exercise.

freedom, adj. Because of France’s unwillingness to support the U. S. invasion of Iraq, some in the United States began to substitute the word freedom for French. Thus French fries became freedom fries, French poodles became freedom poodles, and New Orleans’s French Quarter became the Freedom Quarter.

galactico, n. Taken from Spanish, a galactico is a superstar soccer player, someone who is bigger than a star.

headdesk, n. and int. Similar to 1996’s facepalm, headdesk is a written interjection, usually found on the internet, expressing frustration and disbelief, as if one were hitting one’s head against one’s desk.

manscaping, n. Modeled after landscaping, manscaping is the shaving of unwanted body hair from a man.

meet-up, n.  By the early twenty-first century grass roots activists had figured out how to exploit the internet to their full advantage.  A meet-up is a local meeting of a special-interest group, usually organized nationally via the internet.

meth mouth, n. The decay and loss of teeth as a result of methamphetamine abuse.

santorum, n. This word is an object lesson in word coinage, Google bombing, and karma. In 2003, then-U. S. Senator Rick Santorum compared gay sex to incest and bestiality. In response, sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, who is gay, suggested that his readers start using the term santorum to refer to “the frothy mixture of lubricant and fecal matter resulting from anal sex.” The American Dialect Society subsequent voted Savage’s santorum the “most outrageous” word of 2003. Despite that endorsement, the word seemed to be heading the way of most such deliberate coinages and quietly disappear, and it would have if it weren’t for Google. Savage’s popularity relative to Santorum’s obscurity kept the Savage definition at the top of Google’s search results. Then in 2011 Santorum, ran for the Republican nomination for president the mass media started referring to the senator’s “Google problem,” and that all but guaranteed that references to Savage’s definition would remain at the top of any Google search despite Santorum being in the national news daily in regard to other topics. Despite attempts, by both sides, to Google bomb (see 2002) the name, the Savage definition remains at the top of the search results to this day. The lesson is that in the internet age you need to be a bigger man than Rick Santorum to overcome the karmic legacy of such an outrageous and bigoted comment.

SARS, n. Rick Santorum’s fears of gay marriage aside, severe acute respiratory syndrome was the big scare of 2003.

security mom, n. Modeled after soccer mom, this term was coined with the belief that middle-class, American, suburban housewives ranked danger from terrorism as one of the most important political issues of the day.

traceur, n. From the French for “tracer,” this term refers to a participant in parkour (see 2002).

tramp stamp, n. A tramp stamp is a tattoo at the base of a woman’s spine. Needless to say, it is not a flattering term.

transfer tube, n. The U. S. military attempted to avoid the negative connotations of the term body bag when it coined transfer tube in 2003. The euphemism never really caught on.

uparmor, v. This verb means to add armor or other ballistic protection to military vehicles. The word became an issue in 2003 when it was perceived that the existing Humvees in the U. S. military fleet did not offer sufficient protection to the soldiers within. The adjective uparmored appears by the following year.

These words are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, based on that dictionary’s earliest citation for that word. I’ve also taken words from the Among the New Words column in the journal American Speech; and in many cases these words have been antedated by the OED.  Of course, that does not necessarily mean the word was coined in the given year; it only means that is the earliest date the big dictionary has for the word. In many cases, these words can and have been antedated. My selection is not scientific or systematic; it is based on what I think is interesting; sometimes they are words that appear earlier or later than I would have thought; others have a particular historical affiliation for that year or represent some historical trend; and others are just odd words. I’m avoiding back-formations and variations on existing words. Again, be warned that the coining of a word does not necessarily coincide with the invention of a concept. Often, there will be older words that express the same sense.

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