November 20, 2009

Those inevitable “new word” lists

Filed under: Books, Media, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:21

David Harsanyi falls into the trap cunningly laid for him by the devious wordmongers at Merriam-Webster:

Like other books Americans have a duty to own — the Bible or “Atlas Shrugged,” for instance — the dictionary does not require an absurd marketing ploy to sell itself.

Yet, every year a barrage of cockamamie “word lists” are unveiled by publishers seeking to bring attention to the evolving English language.

In the end, these lists establish two facts: 1) We are unable to invent any new words of value. 2) If you put a list together, a columnist will probably write about it.

One needn’t be William Safire, though, to be unsettled that the word “philanderer” is a major mystery to so many people. According to a new list by Merriam-Webster, “philanderer” (a national pastime, meaning to be sexually unfaithful to one’s wife) was one of the most searched words of the past year because of the crush of politicians and celebrities busy hiking the Appalachian trial.

The word receiving the highest intensity of searches over the shortest period of time was “admonish” (to express warning or disapproval). It was triggered by a crude outburst of a South Carolina congressman and the subsequent moralistic “admonishment” of him by Congress.

It’s not the lists themselves that bother me . . . it’s the blatantly contrived nature of the words appearing in most of the lists. “Unfriend”? Bleargh.

There is, admittedly, one trend that could prove to be a bright spot. The newly minted “teabagger” gives us hope that crude sexual terms will now regularly be applied to politics, where they can do the most good.

Perhaps “felching” will come to describe how the media gathers material for their coverage of the White House. Oh, wait . . .

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