WUOMFM

Words of the Year with Anne Curzan

Dec 22, 2015

Anne Curzan
Credit University of Michigan

It’s nearly the end of the year, and we’re seeing all sorts of end-of-the-year lists, including Word of the Year.

Anne Curzan is an English professor at the University of Michigan and co-host of That’s What They Say, and she joins us today to go over some of the words in the running for Word of the Year.

Oxford Dictionaries took a slightly different route this year, choosing an emoji as its Word of the Year.

“They picked the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ as the word of the year,” Curzan says.

She tells us it was chosen because it jumped from 9% of all emoji used in American texts in 2014 to 20% in 2015, making it the most popular emoji in the country.

“They’re trying to recognize this is an interesting change in the written language,” she says. 

A few notable inclusions on the short list for Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year:

  • “Lumbersexual” – Curzan tells us the Oxford Dictionary defines lumbersexual as “a young urban man who cultivates an appearance and style of dress typified by a beard and checked shirt, suggestive of a rugged outdoor lifestyle.”
     
  • “Fleek” – “It started in reference to eyebrows,” Curzan says. “Eyebrows that were nicely sculpted were ‘on fleek,’ and it now can mean anything that is ‘on point,’ to use another slang word to define it.”

    "Good, attractive, stylish – it's on fleek."
     

  • Refugee” – Curzan tells us that the criteria for choosing a word of the year are constantly in flux and debated in different organizations. Sometimes, as in the two examples above, new words or words that have recently come to popularity are chosen. Other times, she says organizations will choose a word that isn’t new, in the case of “refugee,” but has been prominent in discussion throughout the year.
     

Curzan is a member of the American Dialect Society, which will be voting on its Word of the Year the first week of January. She doesn’t yet know what they’ll choose, but she tells us ADS does tend to pick words that weren’t chosen by other organizations.

“When someone chooses ‘selfie,’ we tend not to choose selfie,” she says, “so I’m fairly sure it will not be an emoji.

If you’ve got your own Word of the Year, feel free to share it with us on Twitter or Facebook