Words of the Year: 2008

Here at Wordorigins.org we don’t select a single term as “word of the year,” but rather we provide a list of terms that were representative of the past year. Here is the selection for 2008:

age-doping, n., the falsification of an athlete’s birth records to meet a sporting event’s age requirements, as alleged of Chinese gymnasts in the 2008 Olympics.

bailout, n. & v., rescue of a failing business by the government, esp. the government payments to the banking and financial industry in late 2008.

Barack Obama nonce terms. Any of the cutesy terms of limited lifespan created as a play on Barack Obama’s name. Examples: Baracknophobia, Barackapolis (the Greek-temple-like backdrop to Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention), Barackstar, Obamamama, Obamarama, Obamania.

Blagosphere, n. Optimistic worldview of a failing politician. After Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and blogosphere.

Caribou Barbie, prop. n. Derisive nickname for Sarah Palin.

change, n. Political buzzword of vague and ever-shifting meaning.

credit crunch, n. Scarcity of capital for lending.

concierge care, n. Personalized medical care available from certain medical practices for a high price.

credit default swap, n. Insurance policy for debt, so-called to avoid having to abide by regulations on the insurance industry.

fail, n. From the verb. Failure. Primarily used online.

haircut, get/take a, catchphrase. To accept a reduction in equity, pay, or benefits in order to keep one’s company or industry afloat.

hockey mom, n. Mother who is invests time and emotions in her child’s interest in hockey. Cf. soccer mom.

Joe the _____, prop. n. An everyman. Example: Joe the Plumber.

maverick, n. A politician who takes pride in his or her independence from party discipline.

nuke the fridge, catchphrase. To ruin a successful movie franchise through cheesy gimmicks and howlingly implausible plot points; a reference to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which contains a scene where the hero survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator. Cf. jump the shark.

plutoid, n. A trans-Neptunian dwarf planet. Coined by the International Astronomical Union to refer to objects like Pluto after taking away Pluto’s planetary status.

PUMA, abbrev. Acronym for Party Unity My Ass. A disaffected Hillary Clinton supporter who refused to vote for Obama. Possibly also influenced by cougar, a slang term for an older woman who has sex with younger men.

securitization, n. The turning of debt (or anything else) into financial instruments that can be sold on the market.

shovel-ready, adj. An infrastructure project that can be started immediately and used as a timely economic stimulus.

tank, in the, catchphrase. Denotes support for a political candidate. Connotes that said support is the result of a backroom deal or is not publicly acknowledged.

team of rivals, n. Political administration populated by the president’s political opponents. After historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 book of that title about Lincoln’s administration and applied to Obama’s in 2008.

terrorist fist jab, n. Fist bump. Used by Republican-supporting journalists after Barack and Michelle Obama bumped fists on stage at an event.

toxic asset, n. Financial instrument that no one wants to own.

Thanks to Grant Barrett, Wayne Glowka, and Ben Zimmer. Many of these terms were taken from their lists of nominations for the American Dialect Society Word of the Year. The ADS Word of the Year will be selected on 9 January at the ADS annual meeting in San Francisco.

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