words of the year
words of the year
With each passing year we can witness the ebb and flow of the English language. Many new words entered the language in 2004, just as many sank further into obscurity, as the lexical habits of the English speaking community effect a kind of 'natural wastage'. Though the English lexicon is constantly developing, the contexts in which new words are coined have remained fairly consistent. Over many decades, familiar themes such as politics, war, technology, relationships, food, fashion and money have continued to be the main catalysts for the formation of neologisms, and 2004 is no exception. Language can be seen to reflect the preoccupations of society, and though technology advances, the basic human condition remains the same.
It would be impossible to give an exhaustive description of new additions to the English lexicon in 2004, so instead we'll take a lexical snapshot of the year and highlight some of the words which have entered popular use, words which in some sense represent a microcosm of the events and preoccupations of 2004.
A new year ahead, a time when traditionally we attempt to recover from the indulgences of the festive season by adopting a range of 'New Year's resolutions' which will hopefully have a positive impact on our lifestyle. If we have overindulged financially, we may want to consider how far the latte factor is having an effect on our financial situation. This phrase, featured on an Oprah Winfrey TV show at the beginning of 2004, was coined by American financial analyst David Bach, and refers to cash wasted on those seemingly insignificant purchases we make every day which, though small (a drink or snack in a café, for example), over time add up to a significant amount of money. Bach argues that we could all save a substantial amount of cash if we monitor our daily spending habits more closely and cut out the morning trip to Starbucks™ to grab a milky coffee (latte) on the way to the office:
'Bach has trademarked the phrase
"The Latte Factor" to point out to young adults and others
that saving $10 a day is no big deal if they factor in how much they spend
each day by eating out or by buying a daily latte before they arrive at
In the month associated with Valentine's Day, those in search of love and romance might in 2004 indulge in a spot of hyperdating. This noun, also used with a hyphen, i.e.: hyper-dating, refers to the practice of dating lots of different people over a short period of time, and is also used in reference to Internet dating. It was recently observed that in New York, online dating has taken off to such an extent that people might set up 10 Internet dates every week, sometimes several in one night hence the description hyperdating, with the use of the prefix hyper- in the sense 'more than usual or normal'. The adolescents of 2004 have grown up with e-mail, text-messaging and the World Wide Web, so for them the Internet is an obvious medium in the search for luuurve!
'In our rush-crazed society, where
takeout and drive-throughs are commonplace, it's no wonder some of us
have come to treat relationships as if they came in to-go bags. ... The
people involved (some of my friends included) have different reasons for
hyper-dating. But it winds up leaving lots of women, and many men,
It was during this month of the year that we first witnessed a sudden flurry of interest in the new noun chav, now hailed as one of the definitive buzzwords of British English in 2004, and already included in the latest edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. This countable noun (plural chavs) is used in a pejorative way to refer to a perceived underclass of young men and women, typically dressed in baseball caps, designer sportswear, short skirts, etc. and sporting lots of cheap gold jewellery. The term is the subject of some controversy in Britain since it suggests a cultural shift back towards a class-ridden society. Though a possible etymology relates to chavi, the Romany word for 'child', chav was in fact popularized through the name of a website, chaviscum.co.uk which describes itself as a 'humorous guide to Britain's burgeoning peasant underclass'.
'Are you stuck in that awful quandary
as to whether you're a Chav or a Chap? Don't worry, the Daily
Express will put you straight. They had a couple of pages with no
news to put on, so have decided to re-establish class divides with a handy
feature on this topic ...'
Good news this month for people who are aichmophobic (frightened of needles) and tyranophobic (frightened of injections)! In April 2004, the journal BMC Medicine reported on a new technique called microscission, which would enable drugs to be delivered without the need for hypodermic needles and injections. Microscission uses a stream of gas to bombard small areas of the skin and create tiny holes, known as microconduits, which will allow drugs to be absorbed. Volunteers in trials of microscission reported that the sensation felt more like a gentle stream of air against the skin, and was much less painful than the prick of a needle! Though the technique is still only experimental, it looks set to revolutionize how blood is taken and drugs are delivered, and could be of particular benefit to people such as diabetics who regularly need to administer drugs and take blood samples.
'… in the not-too-distant future,
apparently, we can expect to have our vaccinations, our anaesthetics and
our drugs delivered through a new technique called microscission.'
It was on the 1st May 2004 that ten new member states entered the European Union, paving the way to an increased awareness of Eastern European culture and cuisine as Britain entered into a new political and commercial relationship with many Baltic states. Within weeks the first Baltic range of foods was announced at a major supermarket. Just as Italy has given many English dictionaries an entry for ciabatta (a flat bread made with olive oil), Slovenia may now potentially enrich our lexicon with potica, pronounced something like /ptitz /, a yeast cake which appears in a variety of forms but usually consists of a roll filled with walnuts, poppy seeds, chocolate or raisins.
'A new member state of the EU,
Slovenia's Dolomite-Alpine climate and culture infuse its foods with a
mountain flavour: "Bograè" is a mixed-meat stew with
wine, "konjiki lonec" is baked oxtail, while potica is
a rolled chocolate-flavoured cake also found in northern Italy, Austria
An irritating month for anyone with no interest in football or tennis! Coverage of the Wimbledon Tennis Championship and the Euro 2004 football tournament dominated the UK media throughout June and early July. As well as increased affirmation of the term Henmania, a zealous interest and support for the British tennis player Tim Henman, who still failed to fulfill the British public's dream of becoming mens' singles champion, the Euro 2004 tournament gave us familiarity with the new concept of a silver goal, a recent ruling for deciding the winners of a match in the event of a tie. The silver goal rule implied that a session of 15 minutes extra time would be played in the event of a tie, and if there was still no winning score, a further 15 minutes would be played. If this second session still failed to decide the match, a penalty shootout would take place. In the event it seems that the term silver goal may not live much beyond 2004, the International Board having decided that after Euro 2004 the rules about extra time would be returned to how they were before 1994, with both halves played in full. The term Henmania however looks set to re-enter the spotlight in 2005 and will doubtless last as long as Tim continues to stand the remotest chance of winning one of the world's most famous tennis championships!
Well into the summer now and if we haven't already taken a holiday we'll be eagerly anticipating the opportunity to 'get away from it all'. It appears that many of us however, far from seeing this as an opportunity to escape from busy interaction with people, seem to want to surround ourselves with familiar faces, even on holiday. A new participle noun, togethering, describes the increased tendency towards vacationing with your extended family or friends. This noun first came into the public eye in a press release from Walt Disney World in October 2003, and though trademarked by the US travel marketing firm Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, has entered mainstream use in 2004, particularly in the US:
'"Togethering" is likely
to become more popular in the future because of the growing importance
of family in our post-9/11 culture …'
The 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and the eyes of the world focused on the top class athletes and sportspeople of participating nations. Amidst speculation in Britain and the United States regarding the medal prospects of their respective nations, we began to see the term Olympic tourist feature in the press on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2004 Olympic tourists were not merely the millions of spectators flocking to watch the Games and enjoy Athens, but a pointed reference to those athletes who had no chance of winning a medal and were merely out to enjoy being part of the Olympic team. Director of British swimming Bill Sweetenham was reported in the UK press as '… eradicating the Olympic Tourists …' (The Guardian, 7th August 2004) in his re-organisation of the British swimming squad.
Nine months of the year have now passed, the equivalent time to the human gestation period! Those of us who have not wished or been able to have children but have decided to share our lives with other creatures, might in 2004 talk about our furkids. This countable noun, with alternative forms fur kid and fur-kid, is used to refer to a pet that is treated as though it were someone's child. In the late seventies, the word pet was argued to be politically incorrect by animal-rights activists, since it implied human ownership of an animal, and the alternative phrase companion animal was suggested. In the noughties, it seems, we've gone one step further and introduced a term which goes beyond the idea of an animal as a mere companion, elevating its status to that of a kind of surrogate child: the furkid.
'Couples like furkids because
they usually don't live long enough to need expensive private schools.
And their friends like furkids because, unlike real children, you
can plausibly claim to be allergic to them.'
The US presidential election campaign was now in full swing, and the two frontrunners were the existing President George Bush and Senator John Kerry, who enjoyed so much publicity the media were accused of what was called Kerryitis, meaning something like 'compulsive media coverage of the campaign activities of John Kerry'. The analogy of horse-racing continually featured in media coverage of the election campaign, with frequent accusations of horse-race journalism ('focusing on who is winning rather than important policy issues') and frontrunneritis ('a tendency to focus on individuals who look like the leading competitors either before or early within the election campaign'). The racing analogy continued with reference to Senator Kerry as a potential Seabiscuit. This term has recently been used in the US to refer to a competitor who comes from behind to win, and is based on the name of a racehorse who became a winner against all expectations, as featured in the novel Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, and a 2003 film of the same name.
'In the final days, it remains
to be seen if Kerry can live up to his reputation as the political Seabiscuit
who is never competitive unless he is behind with the finishing line in
After the tremendous success of the film version of Bridget Jones's Diary in 2001, a sequel was premiered this month promising to delight chick flick fans across the world. (Chick flick is a term coined in the early nineties to refer to films whose themes and characters will primarily interest women rather than men.) Though Bridget Jones is hailed as a character that many thirty-something women are thought to relate to single, desperate, in search of love a new social demographic term emerged this month which represents her antithesis, the contrasexual.
Modelled presumably on the popularisation of terms such as metrosexual in 2003, the noun contrasexual (also used adjectivally) refers to a super-confident woman whose aspirations counter the conventional values for her sex, hence the use of the prefix contra, meaning 'opposite' or 'against'. The contrasexual woman views a man as an accessory and considers motherhood to be a barrier to the advancement of her career.
'A NEW breed of "contrasexual"
women are shunning men and families for the good life, a report claimed
yesterday … It says there are around two million "contrasexuals"
in Britain and the number is rising.'
As we tuck into our turkey, mince pies and all those other Christmas indulgences this month, we may be putting ourselves at risk of being affected by what is considered to be one of the major health risks of 2004, the worldwide epidemic of globesity. A blend of the words global and obesity, the noun globesity was coined in a 2001 report by the World Health Organization, suggesting that the widespread problem of obesity, particularly in the developed nations, represents a more serious health risk than smoking. It is estimated that by the year 2017, 75% of British men and women will be overweight!
'Zimmerman reported that approximately
1.7 billion people worldwide are battling what she called globesity.
"One third of all Americans are obese," she said. "This
is a 23 percent increase since 1994. That is why we have the globesity
For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.