December 7, 2011
It’s that time of year again—the time when dictionaries and self-proclaimed vocabulary nuts across the Internet unveil their “word of the year.”
Though I’m no lexicographer (one who writes, compiles, or edits a dictionary), I am in the business of words, so I figured I’d compile my own list of terms that have captured the essence—albeit somber—of 2011.
occupy—Unless you’ve been living in the Arctic tundra—oh, wait: there’s a protest there, too—you’ve heard all about the Occupy movement, in which activists worldwide are protesting the power held by the richest one percent. Love it or hate it, it’s everywhere, and I’d argue that the term “occupy” aptly captures the global unrest that marked 2011.
tergiversate—This term, meaning “to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause or subject,” was Dictionary.com’s choice for word of the year. From the Latin for “to turn one’s back,” tergiversate can be applied to the Occupy movement, the stock market, or politicians—if you can pronounce it, that is.
volatility—Considered by many to be the investing word of the year, volatility—meaning “unpredictability” or “instability”—could be used to describe many things beyond the stock market this year.
squeezed middle—Chosen as Oxford University Press’ word of the year (even though it’s technically a phrase), “squeezed middle” is defined as “the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes, and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty.” It was chosen to reflect “the ethos of the year and its lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.” So you likely haven’t heard the last of it.
Arab Spring—This phrase refers to the wave of pro-democracy revolutions that spread throughout the Middle East, including those in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, and, of course, the fall of Gaddafi in Libya. More turmoil and dissent; notice a pattern here?
winning—Even during your dramatic and disturbing downfall, Charlie Sheen, you still considered yourself “winning.” The rest of us might think otherwise, but we salute your optimism during such a dark year.
bunga bunga—Faced with such a bleak list, I had to include this one to lighten things up. Referring to the alleged sex parties of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, “bunga bunga” is a term you just can’t say without smiling.