ADS Word of the Year: #blacklivesmatter

The American Dialect Society has voted on its Word of the Year for 2014, choosing the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, which became the rallying cry on Twitter and other social media outlets for those protesting the failure to obtain indictments against the police officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. It is the first time the ADS has chosen a hashtag as its Word of the Year. The word hashtag itself was the society’s choice for 2012.

(In past years I have participated in the nomination and voting for Word of the Year, but not this year.)

Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS New Words Committee and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal highlighted how hashtags can succinctly encapsulate a social or political message, saying, “Language scholars are paying attention to the innovative linguistic force of hashtags, and #blacklivesmatter was certainly a forceful example of this in 2014.”

The ADS has traditionally adopted a broad definition of word in its selection, including not only such things as hashtags, but phrases, prefixes, suffixes, and any “vocabulary item.”

#blacklivesmatter was the overwhelming choice, with 196 votes. The runner-up with eleven votes was columbusing, a term for cultural appropriation, especially by a white person from a minority culture. Even, as in the phrase I can’t even, garnered five votes, as did manspreading, a word that describes the habit of some men to sit on public transit with legs open to block others from sitting in adjacent seats.

Even was the society’s choice for the Most Useful of 2014, though, with 133 votes. Runners-up with the vote counts were:

  • budtender: a person who works at a legal marijuana outlet (69)
  • unbothered: the state of not being annoyed or distracted (15)
  • Ebola: the virus that killed thousands in West Africa and created baseless hysteria in the U.S. (9)
  • robocar: a self-driving car (7)

The word voted Most Creative was columbusing, with 158 votes. Runners-up:

  • manspreading (44)
  • narcissistick: another name for a stick used for taking selfies (22)
  • misoynoir: misogyny directed at a black woman (8)

The verb to second-amendment, meaning to kill someone with a gun, was voted as Most Outrageous, with 192 votes. Runners-up:

  • God view: the display mode that allows employees of the car-sharing service Uber to see real-time information on all users (11)
  • sugar-dating: a relationship between an older, wealthier person and a younger, poorer one (6)

No term initially won a majority for the category of Most Euphemistic, entailing a run-off. The abbreviation EIT, for enhanced interrogation technique, which itself is a euphemism for torture, eventually won with 108 and then 139 votes. The other contenders were:

  • conscious uncoupling: an amicable breakup or divorce (84/103)
  • bye, Felicia: a dismissive farewell, taken from a line in the 1995 movie Friday (30)
  • thirsty: desperate for a romantic partner (13)

The Most Likely to Succeed nod went to salty, meaning exceptionally bitter or angry, with 78 votes in the first round and 131 in the second. Runners-up:

  • basic: plain, socially awkward, uncool (58/89)
  • selfie stick (48)
  • budtender (44)
  • plastiglomerate: a material made from melted plastic, sand, and organic debris (10)
  • casual: a new or inexperienced person, especially a gamer (7)

Platisher, a term for n online media publisher, was voted Least Likely to Succeed with 173 votes. Runners-up:

  • pairage: a term proposed by a conservative politician for same-sex marriages (53)
  • normcore: the fashion trend of wearing cheap, off-the-rack clothing brands (15)

A new category for 2014 was the Most Notable Hashtag, won by #blacklivesmatter, with 226 votes. Runners-up:

  • #icantbreathe: formed from the last words of Eric Garner (14)
  • #notallmen: used by men in discussions about misogyny and sexual violence against women (1)
  • #whyistayed: used by women in discussions about abusive relationships

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