2007 Words of the Year

It seems that every dictionary, linguistic web site, and philological organization must have a word of the year. Why should Wordorigins.org be any different?

Later this week the American Dialect Society will select its word of the year, so until then here are my suggestions for 2007 words of the year. These are words that are characteristic of broad trends or significant events of the year. The choice is subjective and many other words and phrases are undoubtedly equally deserving. I have not tried to pick a single word as the word of the year; instead, I present a list of representative words in alphabetical order.

Many of my choices are inspired by the suggestions of Wayne Glowka, Grant Barrett, and David Barnhart. Their selections can be found here.

astronaut diaper, n., officially known as a maximum absorption garment, or MAG, a garment worn by NASA astronauts during launch, spacewalks, or anytime a spacesuit is worn for extended periods to collect urine and feces. The term came to the public’s attention on 5 February 2007 when astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested in Orlando, Florida for attempted kidnapping and battery of a rival for the affections of her ex-lover. News reports claimed that Nowak had worn such diapers on her drive from Houston to Orlando so she would not have to make rest stops. Nowak later claimed that this detail was not true, but it had already become prime fodder for the late-night comedians.

atheism, n., disbelief or denial that a God or gods exist. The word is far from new, with cites in the OED dating to the 16th century, but 2007 saw a marked rise in political and social activism by atheists in the United States. The rise was sparked by the publication of several bestselling books critical of religion: Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great (May 2007); Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell (Feb 2007); Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (Sep 2006); and Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation (Sep 2006).

brick, v., to render an electronic device, esp. an iPhone, inoperable, to metaphorically turn it into a brick. Apple announced the iPhone in January 2007 and the devices went on sale on 29 June. In the US, the iPhone is limited to use on the AT&T/Cingular phone network. On 14 August, the first of many hacks to bypass the Apple/AT&T SIM locking and enable the phone for use on other mobile networks was released on the Internet. On 27 September Apple released a software update for the phones which disabled, or bricked, phones that had been hacked.

bubble, n., a rapid and substantial rise in the value of a commercial asset due to irrational expectation that the price will continue to rise. This sense dates to the 17th century, but was particularly notable in 2007 for the US housing bubble which burst and the Web 2.0 bubble which was expected to (and may yet do so in 2008).

carbon neutral, adj., characteristic of having a net zero release of carbon into the atmosphere, sequestering an amount of carbon equal to that released into the air. 2007 finally saw political consensus in the United States acknowledge that anthropogenic global warming was indeed a problem.

colony collapse disorder, n., also CCD, a disease of unknown origin that has destroyed a significant percentage of the US honeybee population, driven up the price of agricultural produce, and threatens the American food supply. CCD was first identified in late 2006 and has continued through 2007. Apiaries in some 24 states and in portions of Canada have been affected by CCD. The phenomenon has also been reported in Europe, albeit to a lesser extent. Losses to CCD have topped 50% of the colonies in some regions, compared to a typical winter loss rate of 15-25%.

congestion pricing, n., a policy of charging more for a good or service during periods of heavy use, in particular, the charging of fees for automobile use in urban areas to reduce pollution and encourage use of mass transit. It is not a new idea, having been proposed as early as 1952 by economist William Vickrey for the New York subway system, but it has been implemented for traffic in central London and on 22 April 2007 (Earth Day) Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed its use to limit traffic in Manhattan. The New York State Legislature, which has to approve such a scheme, killed the proposal in July.

enhanced interrogation techniques, n.phr., euphemism for torture and for interrogation techniques that occupy the gray area at the edges of torture. 2007 saw much political controversy over the use of such techniques by US intelligence agencies. Cf. waterboarding.

forever stamp, n., also no-value indicator or NVI stamp, a first-class postage stamp that can be used into the future without additional postage to account for price increases. Such stamps have been in use in the UK since 1989 and by the US Postal Service since 1998 for special fundraising stamps, such as the Breast Cancer Research Stamp, where a portion of the proceeds go toward the charitable cause. But the first such regular stamp was issued by the USPS on 12 April 2007. Instead of bearing a denomination, the stamps carry the words, “USA First-Class Postage Forever.”

General Betray Us, prop.n., pejorative moniker for General David Petraeus, the US Commander in Iraq, coined by Moveon.org in a New York Times ad run on 10 September 2007. The ad created a firestorm of controversy.

left/right of boom, adj., a US military slang expression to categorize actions taken in response to insurgent bombings in Iraq. Left of boom refers to preventive actions, because they occur before such and attack, to the left on a graphical representation on a timeline. Right of boom refers to actions to find and kill the bombers and to treat the wounded.

lolcat, n., an internet photograph of an animal, usually a cat, that is given a humorous and ungrammatical caption, supposedly representing the cat’s speech, from lol (laughing out loud) + cat. The first lolcats, also known as cat macros, appeared as early as 2005. But the website icanhascheezburger.com launched on 11 January 2007 with the image of a cat asking for a cheeseburger. The website became immensely popular.

nappy-headed ho, n.phr., racial slur uttered by radio host Don Imus on 4 April 2007 in reference to the Rutgers women’s basketball team. The controversy that followed resulted in Imus being fired (he returned to the air in late 2007 on another radio network) and sparked a debate on race and gender issues in America.

subprime, adj., financial term used to describe a loan to a person with a high credit risk and carrying a high rate of interest. Due to the large numbers of subprime mortgages issued in recent years, the 2007 drop in the housing market resulted in increased rates of foreclosure and large-scale losses by hedge funds and large banks who had invested heavily in the mortgages as investments.

surge, the, n., the increase in US troop strength in Iraq beginning in January 2007. This past year was the bloodiest yet for the United States in Iraq, with 901 troops killed in action during the year. But as a result of a combination of factors, including the increased number of US troops, by year’s end the violence had been significantly curtailed and US casualties fell each month from their peak in May 2007.

tase, v., to use an electroshock weapon on a person, from the brand name Taser, one such weapon. On 17 September 2007 at the University of Florida event featuring Senator John Kerry as a speaker, student Andrew Meyer was removed from a speech by University police after insisting that he be given a chance to ask a question of Kerry. The police used a taser on Meyer and Meyer uttered the phrase, “don’t tase me, bro!” The incident was recorded by numerous video cameras, including Meyer’s, as he had handed it to another attendee as the police approached and asked her to record the incident. The video became an internet sensation.

waterboarding, n., an interrogation technique where the victim is nearly drowned, stopping just short of death. Allegations that US intelligence officers engaged in the technique reached a crescendo of political turmoil in 2007. It is not known for certain if the US government used the technique directly, although CIA agents were present at interrogations where waterboarding was performed by foreign intelligence agencies. Cf. enhanced interrogation techniques.

wide stance, to have a, v.phr., to be hypocritical or to express two conflicting points of view. On 11 June 2007, Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) was arrested for lewd conduct in a men’s bathroom at the Minneapolis airport. The arresting officer said that Craig had signaled the desire for sexual contact with, but Craig claimed the officer was in error and that he simply “had a wide stance” when using the toilet. Craig pleaded guilty to the charge, although he subsequently attempted, unsuccessfully, to withdraw the guilty plea. News of the arrest was revealed on 27 August and Craig, who in the past had been vigorously opposed to gay rights legislation, initially indicated that he would resign his Senate seat, but then recanted this and has remained in the Senate. The Craig scandal was the highest profile example in a string of corruption and sexual scandals that plagued the Republican Party throughout 2007.

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