Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Arts & Culture

Grant Barrett's New Words of 2010

Grant Barrett's New Words of 2010
One of the hallmarks of our vibrant, lively English language is that it is constantly growing. Not everyone is thrilled with all the directions of that growth, but it certainly is interesting to watch, and to listen to. Each year, lexicographer Grant Barrett, co-host of A Way With Words, heard here on KPBS, gathers up a group of the most intriguing words.

One of the hallmarks of our vibrant, lively English language is that it is constantly growing. Not everyone is thrilled with all the directions of that growth, but it certainly is interesting to watch, and to listen to.

Each year, lexicographer Grant Barrett, co-host of A Way With Words, heard here on KPBS, gathers up a group of the most intriguing words, which this year includes such gems as "refudiate" and zuzuzela." In addition, Grant talks about San Diego's "Words Of The Year" for 2010.

Guest: Grant Barrett, co-host of "Away With Words" on KPBS and engagement editor for


Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. One of the haul marks are our vibrant, lively English language is that it is constantly growing. Now, not everyone is thrilled with the directions of that growth, but it certainly is interesting to watch and to listen to. Each year, lexicographer Grant Barrett, cohost of a way with words, here on KPBS, gathers up a list of the most intriguing words. And he's here to discuss his candidates for buzzwords of the nation, and for San Diego. Good morning, grant.

BARRETT: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We join our listens to join the conversations. Have you heard a word or phrase you loved this year or really disliked or really didn't know what it meant? Give us a call with your questions or your comments, the number is 1-888-895-5727. Grant, these new words that come through news events and popular culture, do they generally last or do they kind of fade away.

BARRETT: No, they don't last, they fade away. Most new words, in fact, have the lifespan of May flies. They last for a very brief time, they do a small job, and they are quickly forgotten. If they're remembered at all, they're remembered in dictionaries or they're remembered in historical retrospectives.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, I was looking at some of the buzzwords of 2009, and 1 that I thought had really received is the great recession. But the other ones, you kind of go, oh, yeah, I remember that, but your not oozing them anymore.


BARRETT: Yeah, tweet was on that list, the tweet itself referring to a message sent through the Twitter service. That one's got legs. It's gonna last. But a lot of the coinages that begin with TW, most of those are fly-by-night. They just can't last. They I think that the important thing remember is that they just kind of represent their year, they do their job for the year and then they're gone.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you used the term buzzwords, and some people have a negative context to that, but not you.

BARRETT: Well, buzz word is a kind of a Janus word, almost. It just means a word that happens to be in the buzz. Part of discourse, what are people talking about? . But some people think of buzz word as being this kind of dense jargon that's really unpleasant that you want to use to obfuscate or euphemize.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. And you don't mean it that way?

BARRETT: I don't, no.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, as usual you found a lot of words that cropped up in 2010 that were caused by actual events. Let's start with one of the biggest, the most painful events of the year, kind of awful, the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico am lots of words and phrases came out of that event. Tell us a few of them.

BARRETT: It did -- in epidemiology which is the study of the spread of diseases, they would call that event a super shedder, which means it is spreading things right and left. So we had things like the spill cam, this is the thing that we watched the oil flow into the gulf, in high definition. Also the different names for the methods that they were going to use to cap that hole like junk shot, they were gonna throw tires and golf balls in there, which is crazy. I guess they know what they're doing, or maybe they don't. It took long enough. But then we have top kill and a variety of other forms of kill, and all of these being this inside jargon, of the oil business, which left this world, once we all started to pay attention, just entered mainstream parlance. We had to understand what those words meant when all that stuff was happening.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, like containment dome.

BARRETT: Exactly.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Something like that that is so tied to a particular event, would you expect to see, like, junk shot be used in a different context and have that kind of legs that you were talking about.

BARRETT: Sure, yeah, it's natural for people to take something that's heavily used, borrow it into a different context, and twist its meaning a little bit. I would not be surprised to find it used ironically, to ever referred to, as, you know, I'm gonna do a junk shot in the yard to fill that hole in the driveway.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's right. I'm speaking with Grant Barrett, he is cohost of a way with words, heard of course here on KPBS. And he has issued his candidates for buzzwords of 2010 for the nation and for San Diego. Upon and we're asking you to comment or if you have a phrase you loved or hated this year, a new word that you've heard and you really don't know what it means, give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. You've got some other phrases from technology. WOFF.

BARRETT: This is a strange one. Ever since the Internet became a popular thing in the early 90s where anyone could kind of get access to it, it became something outside the university and government be we've been trying to replicate the kind of design work on line that we can do on paper. We could do beautiful things on paper. It's almost impossible to do it on line without resorting to complicated W flash files or strictly graphics which aren't really the best kinds of data to put on the Internet. So people have been trying to do type faces. So I can make my type face at the top of the page, my headliner be in the face that I chose. So you can actually still copy it paste it, and it's still indexable. It still behaves like text rather than behaving like an image. Well, WOFF, the web open font format, does that, and I threw this on the list not so much because it was discussed outside the words of with web design and so forth, but because I think this is one of those terms that is gonna disappear into the language of the Internet, and it'll become ordinary in a few years. Now, it's always a fool's game to make predictions about the future of words, but I think this one will last.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, EV is probably gonna last as well.

BARRETT: Yeah, EV has been around for years, but it's really only spiked this year. EV is an electric vehicle. It makes perfect sense. Who wants to say the long elaborate phrase electric vehicle? It's an EV, or even an NEV, which is a neighborhood electric vehicle. It has a has a range of, say, 10 or 15 miles instead of a range of 40 to 100 miles.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And we just heard, we just ran a story yesterday, how San Diego is like the heart beat for the release of new electric vehicles. So at least heir we're gonna be saying that an awful lot. What is a social graph?

BARRETT: That comes out of the jargon of face book. Inside of face book, the social graph is the network that you as a Facebook user are connected to, all the friends that you have, all the groups you belong to, all the lists your on, all the kinds of photos, things that you've liked or fanned the butt know on, that's your social graph. Outside of Facebook, people have started to refer to that to be a little more general to refer to any kind of social network that you have, be it digital or personal. If it's in the big blue room or if it's in the digital world, that it is your social graph. It's a target for marketers but it's also a target for research ares who want to discover the ways we interconnect with each other. A lot of work has always been done on this. And 234 my world, in language, we are interested in social discourse, the way people speak to each other. Soap we are interested in the social graph, how you talk to a group of friends as compared to how you talk to a different group of friends, you speak to your teachers and you speak to your friends and so forth.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is interesting. How do you come up with these words.

BARRETT: I have a variety of search mechanisms. I use tools as simple as Google alerts, journalists, I'm afraid, tend to be a little predictable. And so when they have a word that's new in their vocabulary, they tend to introduce it in their text, they'll say known in common parlance as, or they'll say referred to in common speak as. And I'll look for those phrases, I'll get Google alerts every time those phrases appear in the media, and then I'll check out those original story and see if there's a word in there worth recording.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Grant Barrett, cohost of A Way with Words, taking your calls. If you'd like to join the conversation about a word or phrase you loved this year or dislike, 1-888-895-5727. We're talking about Grant's candidates for buzzwords of 2010. Politics, this being a big political year is always a good source of new phrases. And demon sheep is on your list. Tell us where that's from.

BARRETT: Do you remember the advertisement?


BARRETT: This is one of the things that came out of the election of Carly Fiorina, who was known for the Republican nomination for senate, and against her opponent, she ran this crazy ad with this sheep kind of descends up, climbs up the hill, and it's got red eyes that are back lit by embers of fire, probably deathly, hellish fire. I have no idea. It was very strange. Just Google demon sheep, and you'll come up with a thousand hits for it, people spent a lot of time looking at this advertisement going what were you thinking? And it didn't get too much play except among the political wonks but in California it was very important.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah, it sort of looks like a B horror movie or something.

BARRETT: Yeah, it's a strange way to get at your opponent. A very strange way.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: On your list, Sarah Pallin has the designation of having two buzzwords of the year. We start out with mamma grizzly, although she's been saying that for a while.

BARRETT: She has been saying it for a while. At least three years. I think i first found it coming out of her mouth in 2007. It refers to strong kind of nonurban women who have strong beliefs and they want depend things for their children, whether they be locally ear federally and so forth. And so they do whatever they can, wherever they can to make sure their children have a good future.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I actually love this word, refudiate.

BARRETT: I have to say, the word is highly useful. A mix of refuse and repudiate. It's completely comprehensible as soon as you hear it or read it. Provided it's got the proper kind of context. You understand immediately. It's got all the hallmarks of a successful word.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, it certainly does, and it's good to say, too.

BARRETT: It's easy to say, too. You can understand it, it's easy to say, it's used by a prominent person, that word is well on its way to being part of the hex ut.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But right now, it isn't. It still would be incorrect.

BARRETT: Right now, most of the discussion with the word is metacommentary about the word. We need to find lots of uses of the word across a long period of time, where they don't refer back to Sarah Pallin or her use of the word, they just use it naturally, and then we'll know that the word has really struck.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me just stop you here for just a minute. You get a good word like this, that maybe starts out as being part of a mistake.

BARRETT: Well, she did it twice. So it's part off her vocabulary.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And it sounds good and people know instinctively what it means, and so if this does get some traction, how long does it take usually for a word to actually enter the lexicon so that people can use it and be correct.

BARRETT: I come from a dictionary background. As a practicing lexicographer who's worked for a variety of publishers and published a couple of my own. And we're very -- the final people and think dictionary publishers are usually very conservative about.

Putting words in the dictionary. And ten years is usually the number given.


BARRETT: 'Cause there's just too much new language. Of this is the barest drop in the bucket of all the new language that appeared in year. A lot of it is scientific, a lot of it is jargon issue a lot of it only appears within certain small spheres of society. And it's never going to be large or enter standard English. But you need ten years. Even on lineup, if you don't have finite space, you at least have finite manpower, finite financial resources. You can't define all the words that there are. Unless everyone in the world is a lexicographer.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. So right now, you can enjoy refudiate, but you better not use it.

BARRETT: Yeah, wait ten years. If it lasts ten years, then we'll give it space.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I was wrong. There are three that have to do with Sarah Pallin.

BARRETT: She's a talker.


BARRETT: Well, this isn't one that she used. She gave a speech in February, where she wrote on her hands, she put notes on her hand, and people mocked her for it. [CHECK] that that was her version of a teleprompter, and they called it a telepalmter. Or they called it the hillbilly palm pilot or something like that. Of some language, that's not going to last of it's a stunt word. It's a stunty word to make fun of -- words that make fun of people tend not to last.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's interesting. One more that comes out of politic, Obama care. Of course people have been saying that for at least a year and a half at this point. But it used to be size only by people who didn't like the healthcare reform law. This year I've heard it said by everybody.

BARRETT: You're right. Obama care has lost some of its negative aspect and it's become a little more neutral. That's exactly right. The word was first used when he was first elected, basically. And people started paying attention to what he said in his campaign promises and his position papers, and they started calling his health plan Obama care. This is it a formation that's been used for numerous presidents, where you take the president's name, and you add care on the end of the name and you belittle the program. But you're right. The program passed. The people who are in favor of what is called Obama car, which is a complex series of rules that change insurance, and healthcare, and who pays for what, and so forth. They realized that they need to own that. They needed to take it over. So they have been trying to rehabilitate Obama care. I don't know if they've completely succeeded, but they're close.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My guest is Grant Barrett, we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Brook is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, brook, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, hi grant.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have a word that has been cropping up in my little circle lately, and when my mother used it, ist just made me sick to my stomach. The word is jeggings.

BARRETT: Oh, jean leggings.

NEW SPEAKER: I can't stand the word. I don't know what it is about it. Of.

BARRETT: Maybe it's because people who shouldn't wear them do wear them.

NEW SPEAKER: It makes me uncomfortable. I don't know how to describe it.

BARRETT: You know, there's no point in it, right? Just call them leggings. We don't call silk leggings seggings, don't we?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Isn't it sort of a marketing term too.

BARRETT: It is. It came out of the UK a couple years ago. It started there. You first see it pop up in fashion blogs that are kind of pimping these awful brands, then the product showed up in the U.S., and now it's on store shelves, and it'll run its course, and we'll never see it again, I hope.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you Brooke. Thanks for the call. Carol's calling from Point Loma. Good morning, Carol and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, I was just -- during the last week with all the political discussions on the tax increase or decrease. So many announcers used the term kick the can down the road, and all of a sudden it's like that's what they all had to say about the tax increase or decrease. Or however you want to call it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that, carol. And that's so true because you're not dealing necessarily with phrases here, but boy, these things, somebody says them, and they become over used to the point where they become trite and meaningless to an extent.

BARRETT: That unfortunately is the nature of human speech. Most of our speech involves repetition, where we hear something and we use it find its own place in our vocabulary. [CHECK] then you don't make it again except maybe once a year or you ask for it on your birthday and have someone else make it for you, right? It's kind of like that. People do definitely over use words, they catch themselves, and they will try to did their best. But when you were speaking as we, off the cuff in unscripted moments, it's hard. Of you reach for safety. You reach for the stuff that's easy. So it's easy to make mistakes and it's easy to repeat yourself.

THE COURT: We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Gloria's calling from -- I'm sorry, Kearny Mesa. Good morning, Gloria, welcome to These Days. Gloria, are you with us? Okay, well, let's move on, then, if we may to the San Diego list that you have, because I find these fascinating. First of all, bomb factory. Bomb house. I mean --

BARRETT: Do we need to tell anybody?


BARRETT: It's a really ordinary compound, bomb factory, bomb house, used by a variety of people in power, and the police and the firefighters, and so forth. This refers to the place in Escondido where there were a lot of chemicals found in a case, and they thought that the best way to get rid of them was to destroy the house.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I was just amazed at how quickly bomb house became the kind of thing that everybody was saying and everybody completely understood.

BARRETT: It reminded me of balloon boy. It was the exact same thing. The needed -- we come up with these shorthands for long ideas so it's easier to express ourselves.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, exactly.

BARRETT: You wouldn't want to have to explain about this whole house every single time, right? Just bomb house. We got it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And again we have another one too, Compton cook out, remember that.

BARRETT: Oh, I do. Of that was this kind of terrible event that was planned by a fraternity at UCSD, where you were supposed to come dressed like an African American, and speak like an African American, and the whole thing was horribly racist. And the word infamous. That's the only thing to be said about. It's one of those things that they'll be talking about in sensitivity program for year.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're absolutely right. And it immediately brings you back there. And you understand that whole rather sad incident. We were talking about the junk shot as opposed to -- when it concerns the BP spill but we had another use of junk rather recently.

BARRETT: We do have another different -- another use of junk, and let's be delicate about this. No giggling, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm gonna try to control myself.

BARRETT: We had this happen at our airport, at Lindbergh field, this fellow by the name of John Tyner videotaped himself refusing to be patted down, more or less, and told the person in the airport, TSA official, don't touch my junk. Well the video of course and his blog post, this was huge, this was a national thing.


BARRETT: Every talk show in America, every morning show in America, e-mails, everything. Just don't touch my junk. And it was doubled by Brett Favre and the nude pictures of him that were supposedly making the rounds. I never saw them so I couldn't say for sure. But this supposedly revealed things about Brett that we didn't want to know. So the junk is your crotch or your genitals.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. Let's take a call. Paul is calling us from Carlsbad. Good morning, Paul, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: What I'd like to know, a few years ago, it seemed like the phrase of the season was paradigm shift. And everybody was saying it, nobody necessarily knew what it meant. And that seems to have expired. No one seems to be talking about it anymore.

BARRETT: I don't know anything about the rise or fall of paradigm shift. It certainly still has its uses inside the scientific realm where it belongs, where it discusses this -- a paradigm shift is roughly a period of a generation, say, perhaps, 30 years from an academy viewpoint where the state of thought in that field shifts from one kind of thinking to another. It's how long it takes to go, basically, a complete turn over. I'm probably completely muddled that definition. But I wouldn't be surprised that it's over used. When terms leave their fields where they originated, we see this inside of therapy all the time, in psychology and psychiatry, for example, if I call you anal retentive or if I call you anal, right? We use this in a kind of casual colloquial way. But it doesn't really have much relationship with actual, real original meaning. And it's the same thing with paradigm shift.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you, by the way, for that call, pall. Of and I'm thinking too of some words that have been used in a specific way this year. So many people used the word really, in a way, like really? Really?

BARRETT: Yeah, there was a -- and I think it was popularized by Saturday night live. Who knew that in the dark years of SNL, when it was no longer funny they would actually have a come back and actually start to have an impact on popular culture again? It's been going for 3 or 4 years a segment on the show, where during the news bit, where they say something preposterous that somebody has done, and they say really? Really? And now I have seen it on 21 different television shows, I've heard it on [CHECK] guests on talk shows use it, I've heard in the office, in public transportation, I've heard it in the mall. It's not just really, but it's the really kind of hyper, really? Really?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And how would you define what it means being said in that context?

BARRETT: It basically says you're an idiot, shut up.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, there it is.

BARRETT: I don't mean you, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, what does this -- what are these -- do you look at these words, whether it's from San Diego or from 2010 and come up with anything about what these words say about us? Is it possible to do that?

BARRETT: Yes. We -- I should just to say, this is all through the filter of media. It's one of the weaknesses of the way that I find new words. And frankly I haven't found a better system. And I know nobody who follows words, and there may be six or seven of us in the country that do, who has a better method. So a lot of this shows that we are hyper focused on media. But really, there is no easier way to keep in touch with what is happening than the media. Facebook and twitter, and social media like that are catching up. But it's funny how often they are often given over to traditional media when it comes time to figure out what's happening. So I think what this shows over all is that as you might expect about humans, we are interested in other people. We want to know what they're doing, what they're saying and how it affects us. And these words reflect that completely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And my last question to you, you must get a lot of comments from people who say, these words are stupid, we hate them, why do you even bother? Who want to see the language adhere to strict guidelines. And I know that you don't like that very much, do you.

BARRETT: Well, we've kind of set up a longer discussion than we have time for here.


BARRETT: No, that's okay. Language changes. And if it didn't, we would all sound like Shakespeare. And it can't help but change. You will never stop the change. And what I always recommend to people on this show or our own radio show is that when you have a problem with language, treat it as an exercise in field work where you examine it for what it is rather than making a judgment about it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a good -- good advice. And said quite quickly.

BARRETT: I do want to say that you can find both of these list, you can find the national list on the New York Times website, just look for my name there. . And you can find my local list on voice of San

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I want to tell people, if you're listening and you want to tell us what your favorite new word or your unfavorite new word is, please go on-line and comment, Days. Grant Barrett, and Martha Barnett, can be heard on a way with words here on KPBS, Saturdays at 8:00 except Christmas day, and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Grant, thank you so much.

BARRETT: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And coming up, holiday dining and entertainment tips from Chef Bernard of that's as These Days continues here on KPBS.