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2010’s Words of the Year

13 January, 2011

I have rounded up various countries’ 2010 WotY, short for word of the year.

What does this have to do with writing?

Reading what has been popular in a language shows writers how quickly some terms date. Use too many and your material dates as well. The WotY list also shows up the cultural differences in our current word-store, where prominent words recognised and used  in one culture can be puzzling or meaningless in another culture.


Attendees at a US national linguistics conference voted for app as the 2010 word of the year. The reason? This word, an abbreviation for computer or smart phone applications, has become ‘omnipresent’. Other info-tech terms have been chosen as the WotY in the past: information superhighway (1993), cyber and morph (1994), web (1995), millenium bug (1997), -e as in e-mail (1998), and Y2K (1999).

The winning word of the decade: Google.

Previous winners in the last decade:

2000—chad (as in Florida voting controversy); 2001—9-11; 2002—weapons of mass destruction; 2003—metrosexual; 2004—red state, blue state, purple state (from the US presidential election that year); 2005—truthiness; 2006—plutoed (meaning demoted, as was former planet Pluto); 2007—subprime; 2008—bailout; 2009—tweet.

Michael Quinion, in the latest online issue of World Wide Words, reveals other winners in different categories:

  • Most useful word: nom. Used by the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street, the term apparently means ‘yummy’ or ‘good’.
  • Most unnecessary: refudiate. The ex-politician Sarah Palin has been criticised for coining this word, a blend of refute and repudiate, but word experts say it has been in use for decades.
  • Most creative: prehab. When former addicts sig themselves in for treatment before they again slip up.
  • Most outrageous: gate rape. Invasive body searches at US airports.
  • Most euphemistic: kinetic event. A military term for violent attacks on troops in Afghanistan.
  • Most likely to succeed: trend. A topic that quickly becomes wildly popular, especially on Twitter.


In Australia, around 500 new terms entered the language last year, including these:

  • Fauxmance: Fake romance between two celebrities to generate publicity.
  • Googleganger: A person who has the same name as you, and whose online references are mixed with yours when people search online for your name.
  • Shockumentary: Documentary film or TV show featuring footage of accidents or violence, or giving damaging information about government bodies, industries, etc.
  • Active ageing: Seeking opportunities to maintain physical, social and mental well-being in order to extend one’s healthy life expectancy and quality of life.
  • Buddymoon: A honeymoon in which friends are invited to come along.
  • Ego surf: Searching the Net to see where and how your name shows up. I was surprised to see this one; not only has the term been around for ages but does anyone still talk about  ‘surfing’ the Web?
  • Screwage: My favourite term from the list. It refers to the charge restaurants levy when customers bring their own bottle of wine. The term combines screw-top bottle and corkage charge.

More terms can be found at Voting for Australia’s WotY runs throughout January 2011.


Here the WotY is found by surveying many Flemish speakers. I am puzzled about what they were asked because the WotY for 2010 is tentsletje, which refers to a female attendee at a music festival who has multiple sexual partners. (The Flemish music festivals sound more lively than my local one!) The shortlist included these two:

  • pedopriester/paedo-priest, a reference to the country’s church-based sex scandals
  • knoflookcrisis or garlic crisis, two words I find odd together. How does one have a garlic crisis?


Most of Germany’s top 10 words for 2010 refer to political issues in the country. The German WotY is Wutbürger, meaning an enraged citizen who protests against various political and social issues. Terms familiar outside of Germany include a political one, Wikileaks (and the cyberkrieg or ‘cyber-war’ the leaks have caused), and the non-political term vuvuzuela, the horn used by soccer fans during the FIFA World Cup.


Big Society was the term chosen by the Oxford English Dictionaries staff as the word that captured 2010’s political and economic mood. The term, coined by the prime minister, David Cameron, refers to making communities and individuals responsible for much of the running of social services.

Last year, four words were named word of the year:  tweet, simples, staycation, and jeggings (leggings that look like tight jeans).


The Global Language Monitor (GLM) each year monitors million of web pages and over 80,000 print and electronic media sites. Its aim is to find the most frequently used words in English, which it recognises as the only global language.

Some of the items on the top-10 list this year:

  • Spillcam: Camera used to show the Gulf oil spill.
  • Guido and Guidette: Italian-American characters in a US TV series, ‘Jersey Shores’.
  • Deficit: Economic shortfall.
  • Snowmagedden / Snowpocalypse:  Last winter’s record snowfalls in eastern USA and northern Europe.
  • 3-D: Three-dimensional, as in movies, but also used to describe ‘robustness in products (such as toothpaste).’
  • Simplexity: ‘The paradox of simplifying complex ideas in order to make them easier to understand, the process of which only adds to their complexity.’

The GLM also identified 2010’s most frequently used phrases, including the following:

  • climate change
  • Great Recession
  • anger and rage–characterising US voters.
  • teachable moment – learning something positive from an undesirable outcome.
  • Tea Party — emerging US political movement.
  • ambush marketing – cashing in at an event by appearing to be a sponsor.
  • Lady Gaga —famous US singer-songwriter and also a ‘buzzword in the global entertainment industry’.
  • man up – advice (command?) during the last US election from female politicians to their male opponents.

GLM’s top words of the decade: global warming, 9/11, Obama, bailout, evacuee, derivative, Google, surge, Chinglish, tsunami.


‘App’ beats ‘nom’ to win word of the year. Joe Mandak, Pittsburgh. The West Australian. 8 January 2011.

Michael Quinion. World Wide Words. Issue 718, 08 Jan 2011.

Virtual Linguist blog.

Fallon Hudson. Word of the year voting opens. NewsMail. 6 January 2011.

Erin McKean. The Year in Language. Boston Globe.

Ingrid Bauer. Top Ten German Words of 2010.

PJJP. Top Words of 2010. Global Language Monitor. 26 November 2010.

‘Big Society’ named word of the year. The Telegraph. 11 January 2011.

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