The Best Words And Phrases Of 2014: Cloud-Chasing, Lumbersexual, Selfie-Stick
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December 11, 2014 1:36 p.m.
The Best Words & Phrases Of 2014: Cloud-Chasing, Lumbersexual, Selfie-Stick
Grant Barrett is a lexicographer specializing in slang and new words and is the co-host of the public radio program "A Way with Words."
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is K P B S mid-day edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's time for the lists of 2014. The top ten movies, music, news stories of the year. But one of the best yearend lists around is a look back at the top new words of the year.
And each year we're happy to welcome Grant Barrett, cohost of public radio's A Way with Words. To share his list with us. Grant, welcome back.
GRANT BARRETT: Oh gee the best, wow. Now I have to live up to it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, you know that's what we're expecting. Don't feel any pressure.
GRANT BARRETT: So you got the sneak peek, right?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, I did. I want to start by having you remind us what it takes for a word to make it on your list.
GRANT BARRETT: People have to actually be using it. It can't be something one person uses. It also needs to kind of reflect what we're thinking about. Reflect our mood, our preoccupations, the news. The up and coming generation.
I particularly like to look that language of young people. It's got to have vibrancy and be a part of (CHECK AUDIO).
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But it doesn't necessarily have to be brand new?
GRANT BARRETT: No, that's impossible to do actually. Brand new words usually don't show their promise yet. Just the same way a brand new child, even though their parents may love them dearly, doesn't show what that child will become as an adult. So you have to wait a little while.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Another thing you say, I think is that it has to fill a gap in the lexicon, or it's good if it fills a gap. In other words, there shouldn't be a word for that.
GRANT BARRETT: Yeah, exactly. It's a lexical gap, that's exactly what we call it in linguistics, and the lexical gap is when you have a really complicated idea and you need a shorthand for it so you come up with one.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And so that is the criteria. Where do the words and phrases come from?
GRANT BARRETT: I do lot of reading. I track a lot of social media. I particularly try to track people who aren't like me.
For example, I follow a group of female comedians in Los Angeles. I have a private Twitter list. I follow a group of male hip-hop artists in Brooklyn New York. So I just pay attention to them because they are very different from me, and I want to make sure I'm not only reflecting what I like, what I read and where I go on the internet.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, for your list to have pop, zip and all of those good things, is it in your mind that most people have heard of these words or is it better if most people have not heard of them?
GRANT BARRETT: It's terrible for me because when people see the list, they have two basic responses. The first is - oh I know that, why is that on the list; the second response is - I've never heard of that, why is it on the list because there is no middle ground there.
But generally people haven't heard of most of them probably two thirds of the time and the other third they have had, the reason it's on the list is because everyone has heard of it.
Everyone knows for example Ebola you know it it's on the news, it's no surprise, it's come across your radar.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. And you gave me a perfect segway, that's what I was going to do as we jump into your picks for 2014.
As you know Time magazine has the Ebola fighters as persons of the year. You have Ebola on your list, it's a word that people have known for years so explain to us why now it is on the wordlist.
GRANT BARRETT: There is a new significance. If you were to track this word and look at, per capita, the number of uses per person or per word the number in print media, you would see a big mountain peak there, a Mt. Everest on this chart.
So the word does haven't to be brand new, clearly, but really this new prominence particularly because Ebola, for the first time really kind of scared Americans and came home to us, as we had people in our country who may or may not have been affected.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And it's also sort of been used in different was too. We here Ebola scare, Ebola doctor, Ebola Czar - so it's that pairing that is kind of brand new.
GRANT BARRETT: It is indeed. And there is another thing that has happened since the first time it came across the American consciousness.
It's always been known as this terrible disease and frequently we would call something the Ebola of whatever. The Yugo is the Ebola of cars, meaning the worst car out of all of them. I used to drive a Yugo, it's a great little car.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I hadn't heard that, that's funny.
Okay. So also there has been two particularly disturbing phrases on your list that have also developed from the Ebola virus - wet case and dry case.
GRANT BARRETT: Yeah. These were not particularly common, but I included them because I think they reflected a particular condition we have on the ground. This unnecessary fear and panic that we have of people who may or may not have been exposed to Ebola.
And so the health practitioners made a point of expressing, a wet case is someone expressing extreme symptoms they are sneezing, vomiting, there is effluent coming off of this person.
And then the dry case is the person who may have had some exposure but is not showing any symptoms whatsoever, they look like a normal human being. With no illness apparent at all.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Talk about disturbing words. There are also a couple from the headlines. Your list this year, and they've been confusing because they are apparently interchangeable. We've been hearing so much about ISIS and then ISIL, why isn't there just one name for this terror group?
GRANT BARRETT: It's the problem with different alphabets we have a terror group whose name is originally established in Arabic and then you have to transliterate that into Roman characters but you're not doing it once, you're -- I'm sorry, Latin. You’re transliterating it into every alphabet that doesn't use the Arabic characters.
So each one does their own thing. And then you have political agendas on top of that I don't want to address Syria I want to address all of the countries of the Levant for example.
So some of these names were established by the press, some by the U S government, some established by the French government. Some were established by the fighters the Jihadist themselves.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, on a happier note politically umbrella revolution also made your list.
GRANT BARRETT: Right. This is the democratic protest in Hong Kong. They are fighting against the Chinese government slowly cracking down on all of these liberties they've taken for granted.
There's been one by one these western democratic ideals have been reduced or eliminated or somehow voided by the Chinese government new rules on physical responsibility, what language you're allowed to speak, how money is handled, all of that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And all of those images of the people in the square holding those umbrellas because of the terrible weather.
GRANT BARRETT: It's not the first umbrella revolution. I believe the first was one in Europe as well, but it is an incredible visual that travels very well.
So clever of the organizers to think we need more than people standing on a square, we need something else that will catch the photographer’s eye and get our message out there as the photos travel as well.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Grant Barrett. He is, of course, the cohost of public radio's A Way with Words heard on K P B S FM, four p.m. on Saturdays. By the way, we're talking about his list of words. The words of 2014.
Now, we became familiar with the word selfie, it was picked as 2013 word of the year by Oxford dictionary. But this year on your list you've got the term selfie stick.
GRANT BARRETT: Do you have one of these, Maureen?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I do not.
GRANT BARRETT: So the selfie stick. And it's incredibly common particularly in Asia is a telescoping stick with a screw on the end, perhaps connected to your camera by blue tooth or some other means where you extend, pull the stick out like you would a telescope or the way you would do an antenna and your camera is on the end.
You hold it way out so you can get yourself and whoever is with you with a lot of background and take a really great selfie.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Who needs to ask anyone?
GRANT BARRETT: Well, you know, if you're travelling the first time in your life you're going to see the great wall, you're never going to do this again, you're never going to be able to capture these photos again. I can see investing in a selfie stick. Packing it into your luggage.
Really, if you're just going out for lunch, don't do that, right. Don't take it down to the burger joint. And trust me on Instagram people are using selfie sticks for a lot.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A lot of things, probably, we don't want to see. Another word that made the rounds last year is vape, referring to inhaling the vapor from E cigarettes.
GRANT BARRETT: Yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This year you've added the phrase cloud chase; what is that?
GRANT BARRETT: Vaping to smoke E cigarettes was on my list last year. And a lot of people wanted it on this year's list, but I'm like well I picked it last year.
Cloud chasing is kind of a performance kind of vaping where you try to blow shapes or try to fill a room with your fog. It's just this kind of -- men get a hold of something and they have to be competitive and they've done it with this as well. It's vape. It's basically a masculine past time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Speaking of masculine, we know the word metro sexual.
GRANT BARRETT: Yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But this word you give us lumber sexual and ammo sexual. I'm almost afraid to ask.
GRANT BARRETT: Well, let's start with lumber sexual. These are guy whose wear the beards and flannel shirts, maybe the rough and ready jeans. The big boots. They have the physical representation of a stereotype of a lumber Jack but they do it with a lot of care and money. They spend a lot on hygiene, spend a lot of time on their beard. Spend lot on their clothes and so they are interested -- it's not something they throw on. They put a lot of thought into this.
And then an ammo sexual is someone so in love with the second amendment and guns and going down to the range that Bill Maher used the term it's usually used derisively they are so in love with it it's like they are having a romantic affair with their weapons.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And one of my favorites on your list is the term, the word Beezin; is that for real?
GRANT BARRETT: No, I don't think it is.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I like it though.
GRANT BARRETT: We get these moral panics local T V stations across the country will catch on to some ridiculous press release and they'll say oh the kids today, watch out for your kids.
Are kids actually putting Burt's Bees on their eye lids so they can get a buzz off of that?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I don't think so.
GRANT BARRETT: No. No. They are not that stupid, well most of them, right. They're not doing it. But the T V station has something to report to get the parents all enraged and so far it looks like there was a joke, that was misunderstanding turned into a police officer warning sent out and it became a thing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Maybe it can just begin to mean just putting Burt's Bees on your lips.
GRANT BARRETT: Yeah, I'm Beezin all the time. I've got Burt's in my pocket. Can't do without the Burt's.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Twitter lead some hash tag focused phrases on your list. You've included #not all men and #yes all women.
GRANT BARRETT: I looked at a lot of hash tags because this is one of the new ways that slang is transmitted. Hash tags are themselves a kind of slang. Frequently it's complicated to explain but basically a really huge movement within the last couple of years of women using online medium to expose sexism, misogyny, sexual violence that sort of thing. Gender bias wherever it happens to appear.
And then there is always this response from a certain type of man like, yeah but not all men are like that. And so it became a hash tags every single time a woman would say something on social media for a particular type of guy to say well not all men and the women are like we just mean the pre dominance of -- this is a masculine thing. Men do this; they are the ones perpetrating this act by and large.
And the response to that by the women are yes all women they'll tell a small story about something that happened, some act of sexual violence. Some act of misogyny or some act of gender bias and then they will use the #yes all men to demonstrate this sort of thing happens to all women everywhere. To a small degree or greater degree all women are going to encounter this.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are these hash tags, this slang that developed on Twitter, does it also make its way on to general conversation or does it stay in the Twitter sphere?
GRANT BARRETT: Yeah, it really does. Some of it drops the hash mark in front and just becomes a phrase, sometimes it turns into titles of articles and books.
Sometimes people give speeches. The best thing about this it allows you to bundle and collect all these different thoughts together so you can actually just click on the #yes all women and get all of these stories as they unfold.
But yeah, a lot of these words on the list summarize a complicated idea. If you see the -- if you know the #yes all women the really complicated back story of how it came about and what it represents.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You also -- always on your lists I believe include something that has to do with the weather, a weather phrase.
GRANT BARRETT: Do I? Oh no, I've been characterized.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Un noble and great, what phrase did you pick for this year's weather?
GRANT BARRETT: Polar vortex. And actually I could have picked that in January of last year. We had two of them. These giant swirling masses of polar air for some reason come down to the lower 48 and they freeze us out.
At least the northern part of the United States and up it's not unusual for that to happen, it's twice this year this word has come to the massive attention of Americans.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just on a side note too, I want to know if you have any opinion on the thing that is happening now where winter storms are being named.
GRANT BARRETT: I love it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you?
GRANT BARRETT: I believe there is room for whimsy. It's a lot of fields that don't have whimsy. Why not do it? Now, if you have a motive behind it like getting back at an ex-girlfriend.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The weather channel does it and everyone has picked it up. So I guess it's an easy way, as you say, to shorthand to reference a particular storm without having to say where it is all the time.
GRANT BARRETT: Imagine every time you wanted to talk about a car you had to explain - a four thousand piece of metal with rubber tires and an internal combustion engine, instead of using the word car.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I wondered, you know, your list of the words of 2014 and other lists obviously have been put together over a long period of time, but considering the protests going on today over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.
Do you think that I can't breathe let's say or hands up demonstration might have been some of the candidates on your list?
GRANT BARRETT: I looked at all of the protest for this stuff and thought it was pre mature, when you do these annual lists for words of the year or celebrity of the year you have to be careful not to overly weight the most resent weeks and months, that's the most natural thing we do. They're more familiar.
So when I go back and browse the year, I literally go back to news coverage from January month by month, look at my notes month by month and try to make sure I'm balanced.
So I looked to it and said to myself this could be a candidate for next year certainly if it continues through the start of the year. There is a lot of language -- a lot of it though is, forgive me for drawing a line, catch phrases or slogans more than actually a word part of the normal syntactic structure of a sentence.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How would that differ?
GRANT BARRETT: I might throw it in there just for the heck of it because I'm making my own rules. But generally a catch phrase or a slogan is just something that you blurt out or you explain but it's not part of larger sentence.
Yes all women and not all men kind of fall under that but I've thrown hash tags into the slang bucket and I'm going to leave them there for a while.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you some of your favorites on your own lists.
GRANT BARRETT: Favorites are hard. It's like these are all of my children but I tend to skew more toward young people's slang.
For example "Rekt" an intentional misspelling of wreaked. I was so wreaked last night. Wreaked means to be so drunk, high, or tired you can't really operate. You're impaired.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So the idea of putting T on the end of words that you would usually end in a D or E D that pops up a couple of times on your list.
GRANT BARRETT: Well, in the history of English language we have sometimes formed the past participle of verbs with a T instead of a D, so it happens again and again. It also happens in African American vernacular, English, where it's more common for the D letter to be represented by a T sound.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where is the most fruitful area in the country from all of your research on words? Where is the most fruitful area where language is really fresh, new and people are coming up with new things? Is it people texting, a certain demographic, where is it?
GRANT BARRETT: It has nothing to do with the medium, everything to do with demographic, it's still young people.
Young people between the ages of 13 and 23rd are incredibly productive. They feel no obligation to adopt the slang of their parents or grandparents so they will invent whole new categories for words that we already think are settled and firmly in place. It's vibrant and alive and they don't care what you think and it's kind of exciting.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much.
GRANT BARRETT: Pleasure.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Grant Barrett, I believe that you will be talking more about your list. And you're cohost of A Way with Words airs Saturday at 4:00 on K P B S FM thanks so much for coming in.
GRANT BARRETT: My pleasure, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Coming up the gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama are out with a new Christmas album, that as K P B S midday edition continues