From "Cronut" To "Selfie," NYT's 2013 Words Of The Year
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December 19, 2013 1:25 p.m.
Grant Barrett, lexicographer specializing in slang and new words, co-host of the public radio program, A Way with Words
Related Story: From "Cronut" To "Selfie," NYT's 2013 Words Of The Year
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. If you have ever enjoyed a cronut or taken a selfie, you are on the cutting edge of the English-language. Both words are mentioned in the 2013 New York Times list for words of the year. The number of new organizations like the Oxford Dictionary and American Dialect Association also choose words that emerged during the year, or seem to typify the current zeitgeist. Joining me is lexicographer Grant Barrett. This the tenth year that he has compiled the words of the year list for the New York Times, and grant, welcome back to the show. And to our listeners, if you have a nominee for the 2013 new word of the year, give us a call. I will start out by asking you Grant, how did you go about choosing words and terms that end up on the list?
GRANT BARRETT: Lots of reading and I spend a lot of time online, I do email searches and I get submissions from people all through the year who want their hands in the picture.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you have criteria?
GRANT BARRETT: Yeah, it needs to really reflect the current zeitgeist. It does not have be brand-new. It really has to be about our preoccupations, what are things occupying our menatl space across the country. It could be anything from a significant saying to a significant person, or just something that we are all saying.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So do people need to know these words or can they be just known in a stratified area?
GRANT BARRETT: Sometimes I pick them up out of the particular domain so they are new to most people. Sometimes people raise their eyebrows at it. For people who know it, it's a big one. The first one on my list is ìag gag,î refers to laws put in place to stop videotaping at agricultural sites to stop animal abuse. If you're in that domain, you care a lot about that word, ìag gag.î
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us an example of a great word that you like, but did not make it on the list.
GRANT BARRETT: I don't have that list, you want the ìalso ran list.î I send the New York Times a list of candidates every year and they will cut some of them for space or just because they are a bit prudish. One of the words that did not make it this year is the word ì glasshole,î and this is for those people who wear the Google glass head mounted computer, because there is a particular kind of behavior that you have when you wear this devvice that you are kind of ignoring the world around you and you are immersed in this tiny little screen that is fastened to your head.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And that didn't make the cut?
GRANT BARRETT: The New York Times is a little high collared over there.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So the word doesn't have to be current?
GRANT BARRETT: It does have to be current, but not brand-new.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But gained some notoriety or usage?
GRANT BARRETT: Notoriety maybe not, but usage at least.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In San Diego we have some phrases made popular by the habits of our former Mayor Bob Filner. Tell us about these phrases.
GRANT BARRETT: They almost all have his name in them. The Filner dance, the Filner headlock ñ oh and did you see the creepy computerized video demonstrating the Filner headlock? These two terms, when I put the word out on the voice of San Diego, these kept coming up. My favorite is from LaDona Harvey, and it describes the type of therapy that Filner does and it's called ìass grab rehab.î And it rhymes. LaDona's got a way with words, I gotta tell ya.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When you hear a phrase like that enter the public conversation, do you enjoy that considering what you do for a living?
GRANT BARRETT: Here's the thing, for me and a lot of people who pay attention to this, this is frivolous. But is it entry point into the days of affairs. It is another way into the topic and you can come at it from a lighthearted angle, and then get into the serious stuff. Rather than getting smacked upside the head with hard news.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Your antenna must go up when you hear stuff like that.
GRANT BARRETT: You have to turn it off when you are reading and journalists have this problem when you hear the news you turn up that Spidey sense to read for pleasure.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What other words or phrases have to do with newsworthy events?
GRANT BARRETT: Boston strong is on my list. This came out of the after the bombing in Boston. It's kind of a catchphrase, but I want to include it because it represented an important event in the history of this country, even 10 to 50 or 100 years from now will remember this as a turning point for certain things.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: On the opposite side of the serious monitor, you also have a word called ìfatberg.î
GRANT BARRETT: This giant globule of fat and waste under London, found in the sewers there.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Whatever else is under the London is in there.
GRANT BARRETT: I'm waiting for the horror movie, the fatberg that ate London.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We heard the words twerk on several occasions here in San Diego, some high school kids got in trouble over a YouTube video of this explicit dance move, then Miley Cyrus, what kind of shelf life does a word like this have?
GRANT BARRETT: You would be surprised to hear that that word is twenty years old. This is what happens to a lot of languages used by particular crowd of people that for some reason gets popularized. One of my favorite words is called hanging chads. That word was 150 years old.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did twerk always mean the same thing?
GRANT BARRETT: It's always it's the same kind of thing, they were doing it in New Orleans twenty years ago. It was always been the same thing as a certain kind of booty shake. Let's get one thing on the record, Miley didn't get the iconic twerk down.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We'll get to that later.
GRANT BARRETT: Show me Maureen, let me see your twerk.
MAUREEN CAVANUGH: No way, I'm sitting down. The Oxford dictionary pronounced selfie as the word of the year, and it is on your list, do you think this is a good word?
GRANT BARRETT: I do and I think Jeff Lundberg it's on his words of the year. We looked at the word and it's not just about the word, it represents is kind of pervasive narcissism that we have. For better or worse because we have a certain amount of self reflection that is required to be productive. You need to look upon yourself and have a considerate life and perhaps this is a way to do that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I am surprised, a lot of people see words on this list that they had never heard before, but I'm surprise way heard a word or phrase have never heard of. One of them is ìresting bitchy face.î
GRANT BARRETT: This is what your natural face when you're not smiling, you're just living and it looks at your angry or upset. Or like you are about to snap at someone. It is your natural face that looks like you have an attitude. Apparently this is the thing, in this video made the rounds, you can Google that. My wife said that, I love you honey.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Does it have to be a woman?
GRANT BARRETT: No, but in American English this tends to be gendered as female.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And bitcoin, that is a word that I've heard but I don't know what it means.
GRANT BARRETT: The Times cut that from my list. It's called a crypto currency. It is a way to send in money through verified transactions only through processing power of the computer. If you currently have Bitcoin and wondering how to recover their value, if you use it like any currency, used for digital transactions. Their places in San Diego where you can pay for a beer with Bitcoin.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And now we know. It seems like there is a trend on the list for Internet memes. Explain to us what that is
GRANT BARRETT: These are fine, there's a photo of a young woman posting where she pretended to be sleeping and took a selfie, you can see the mirror behind her back she was taking the photo, but the caption indicates that her baby caught her sleeping here. We are little more narcissistic and incompetent at it as well. We fail at our narcissism. They do it with that with our great irony. They play with this idea.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the other one, dog spelled ìdoge,î tell us about that.
GRANT BARRETT: This fluffy dog. It's a meme that floats around with ìso wow, such radio, so Maureen,î such things like that. It's a dumb thing that the Internet is filled with whimsy.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to follow up on the fact that a lot of stuff on the list this year comes from the Internet, is that where most of the new words are coming from?
GRANT BARRETT: The Internet is a large generator of catchphrases and slang. The Internet is has almost stopped being significant to this stuff. It represents our culture now.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why is ìSharknadoî on the list?
GRANT BARRETT: Did you see the film?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: No, but I heard about it.
GRANT BARRETT: The worst film of all time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: To let our listeners know, ìSharknadoî about a tornado that picks up sharks.
GRANT BARRETT: What else needs to be said, right?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And so was it but cleverness of that word and the craziness of that they got you?
GRANT BARRETT: It was, it ñ if I should say - was a storm of interest while the movie was on display. I included them for fun, this can't all be financial and political words, that would be so boring.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Remind us why you chose some of the last words, and how that compares to what we're seeing this year.
GRANT BARRETT: That's twelve months ago. Hashtag was on my list. And occupy as well, those represented 2012 quite well and I look back in my 2004 list and I will put a link to that on the radio show website, but the list held up the well as representing the spirit of the day.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When you see other lists, do some things pop out on you?
GRANT BARRETT: My process is similar, place to help some of them do their lists. I know the people who do the list for Oxford.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Their word of the year is science, why?
GRANT BARRETT: They go to their own data and find that somebody terms that people search for either silence are rated, they feel that represents the preoccupation of people. They're looking for the larger theme, the legitimate and not so much the actual word.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Most of the words of the year lists of the same sort of criteria that you do great? The interesting words that were either developed this year or become popular or somehow meaningful.
GRANT BARRETT: Dictionary makers have a motive, they want to sell dictionaries and they have to keep it into entertaining. My wife thinks they are much smaller, I do this out of fun.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How long does it take you to do this?
GRANT BARRETT: All your peer pressure recording as soon as they start recording the list as soon as the last year's list is finished.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is it like the Oscars, the movies that open in December get more recognition because they're easy to remember?
GRANT BARRETT: It's a recency bias. I try to avoid that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay I stand corrected, why do you think that there is so much interest in these lists? People love these lists.
GRANT BARRETT: They do love them and my theory is because first they are learning the language, they like learning new fun stuff and the second thing is, they can say oh yeah, the Harlem Shake, wow I forgot about that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You have to explain that now.
GRANT BARRETT: That is a dance where there's an electronic song and there's a video where everyone is watching him dance ends everyone else is sitting around ignoring him and then in the next shift everyone starts dancing took this was a trend for a while. Some people making their Harlem Shake videos.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The idea of relating the words and the actual experiences, give them an overall idea of the year?
GRANT BARRETT: We like being reminded of recent history, have you ever looked back at your Facebook history? It's like that, recent reminiscing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: People will be able to see all of your words of the year.
GRANT BARRETT: Even cut ones, yes, on the website.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: On the website, but when will they see it in the Times?
GRANT BARRETT: The New York Times will put their version out on Sunday, and I will put it on WaywardRadio.org on Saturday or Sunday as well.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have been speaking with lexicographer Grant Barrett, cohost of public radio program, A Way With Words. Thank you.
GRANT BARRETT: My pleasure! Always fun.