Tag Archives: words

Merriam-Webster word of the year: surreal

Was 2016 a dream or a nightmare? Try something in between: surreal, which is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year, unveiled Monday.

Meaning “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream,” or “unbelievable, fantastic,” the word joins Oxford’s “post-truth” and Dictionary.com’s “xenophobia” as the year’s top choices.

“It just seems like one of those years,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large.

The company tracks year-over-year growth and spikes in lookups of words on its website to come up with the top choice. This time around, there were many periods of interest in “surreal” throughout the year, often in the aftermath of tragedy, Sokolowski said.

Major spikes came after the Brussels attack in March and again in July, after the Bastille Day massacre in Nice and the attempted coup in Turkey. All three received huge attention around the globe and had many in the media reaching for “surreal” to describe both the physical scenes and the “mental landscapes,” Sokolowski said.

The single biggest spike in lookups came in November, he said, specifically Nov. 9, the day Donald Trump went from candidate to president-elect.

There were also smaller spikes, including after the death of Prince in April at age 57 and after the June shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Irony mixed with the surreal for yet another bump after the March death of Garry Shandling. His first sitcom, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” premiered on Showtime in 1986 and had him busting through the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience and mimicking his real life as a standup comedian, but one who knew he was starring in a TV show.

“It was surreal and it’s connected to the actual original meaning of surreal, which is to say it comes from Surrealism, the artistic movement of the early 20th century,” Sokolowski said.

Which is to say that “surreal” didn’t exist as a word until around 1924, after a group of European poets, painters and filmmakers founded a movement they called Surrealism. They sought to access the truths of the unconscious mind by breaking down rational thought.

It wasn’t until 1937 that “surreal” began to exist on its own, said Sokolowski, who is a lexicographer.

Merriam-Webster first started tracking lookup trends in 1996, when the dictionary landed online. In 2001, after the 9/11 terror attacks, the Springfield, Massachusetts-based company noticed plenty of spikes in word lookups. The most enduring spike was for “surreal,” pointing to a broader meaning and greater usage, Sokolowski said.

“We noticed the same thing after the Newtown shootings, after the Boston Marathon bombings, after Robin Williams’ suicide,” he said. “Surreal has become this sort of word that people seek in moments of great shock and tragedy.”

Word folk like Sokolowski can’t pinpoint exactly why people look words up online, but they know it’s not only to check spellings or definitions. Right after 9/11, words that included “rubble” and “triage” spiked, he said. A couple days after that, more political words took over in relation to the tragedy, including “jingoism” and “terrorism.”

“But then we finally hit ‘surreal,’ so we had a concrete response, a political response and finally a philosophical response,” Sokolowski said. “That’s what connects all these tragic events.”

Other words that made Merriam-Webster’s Top 10 for 2016 due to significant spikes in lookups:

BIGLY: Yes, it’s a word but a rare and sometimes archaic form of “big,” dating to around 1400, Sokolowski said. It made its way into the collective mind thanks to Trump, who was fond of using “big league” as an adverb but making it sound like bigly.

DEPLORABLE: Thank you, Hillary Clinton and your basket full of, though it’s not technically a noun.

IRREGARDLESS: It’s considered a “nonstandard” word for regardless. It’s best avoided, Sokolowski said. Irregardless was used during the calling of the last game of the World Series and its use was pilloried on social media, he said.

ICON: This spike came after Prince’s April 21 death, along with surreal. “It was just a moment of public mourning, the likes of which really happen very seldom,” Sokolowski said.

ASSUMPSIT: At the Democratic National Convention, Elizabeth Warren was introduced by one her former law students at Harvard, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III of Massachusetts. He described how on his first day she asked him for the definition of assumpsit and he didn’t know.

“She said, ‘Mr. Kennedy do you own a dictionary?’ so everybody looked it up,” Sokolowski laughed.

For the record: It’s a legal term with Latin roots for a type of implied promise or contract. Kennedy didn’t define it when he told the story.

FAUTE DE MIEUX: Literally, this French phrase means “lack of something better or more desirable.” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used it in a brief concurring opinion in June to support a ruling that struck down a Texas law that would have closed all but nine abortion clinics in the state.

IN OMNIA PARATUS: A Latin phrase for “ready for all things.” Curiosity surfaced when Netflix revived “Gilmore Girls” recently, including reference to this famous chant during an episode in the original series where Rory is talked into leaping off a high platform as part of the initiation for a secret society at Yale. It became a rallying cry for fans of the show.

REVENANT: Leonardo DiCaprio played one in a movie of the same name, sending people scurrying to the dictionary. It describes “one that returns after death or a long absence.” It can be traced to the 1820s and while it sounds biblical, it is not, Sokolowski said.

FECKLESS: It’s how Vice President-elect Mike Pence described President Obama’s foreign policy when he debated Democrat Tim Kaine. It means weak or worthless.

On the Web

Online: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-of-the-year-2016

Standing Ovation: High school valedictorian comes out in graduation speech

A high school valedictorian received a standing ovation when she came out as gay during her graduation speech in the Colorado mountain town of Carbondale.

In the Boulder County city of Longmont, however, a top student was banned last week from making a similar affirmation at his graduation and instead delivered it to a gay rights group a few days later.

The different outcomes reflect the range of challenges and acceptance that some young people can face when they try to speak out about their sexuality.

Stacey Long Simmons, director of public policy and government affairs for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said many young people continue to be ostracized because of their sexual and gender identities.

But she also says she is hearing more of them speak out and be applauded for their effort.

“There has been a sea change,” Simmons said. “We have been witnessing a lot more conversations about these issues.”

During her weekend speech in Carbondale, Roaring Fork High School graduate Emily Bruell used signs as props and got the standing ovation as soon as she revealed the word “gay.”

“I’m not just gay. I’m not just smart. No one is. No label is big enough to hold an entire person,” Bruell said in her speech, which was first reported by the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.

Principal Drew Adams, who had read the speech in advance, said he had known students and teachers would be welcoming but noted that graduations also draw family and friends from outside the isolated town of 6,000 near Aspen.

“As a school community we have embraced tolerance,” Adams said.

He believes Bruell’s speech, which he called courageous, will help other students feel safe at the school and praised her “insight about how we have to lead our lives.”

He also noted that a Gay Straight Alliance group has been active at Roaring Fork for years, and Bruell had turned to a teacher who co-sponsors the group when she first considered addressing her sexuality in her speech.

Adams added that he had worked in the Boulder area earlier in his career and was surprised to see that a principal there had the opposite reaction to a student who wanted to come out in his valedictory speech.

Senior Evan Young had said he was not notified until just a few minutes before the May 16 ceremony at Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School in Longmont that he wouldn’t be allowed to speak or be recognized as valedictorian because of his speech.

He said he had agreed to make some suggested changes but refused to remove comments about his sexuality. School officials contend he did not submit a revised draft.

Young was able to deliver his speech over the weekend at an awards ceremony held by the gay rights group Out Boulder. The Daily Camera newspaper reported that the crowd, which included U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, cheered during the speech that ended with Young asking people to hug someone different from themselves.

Nationally, research has found gay and bisexual high school students are more likely than their heterosexual classmates to attempt suicide or do risky things like smoke and drink alcohol.

A study published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that gay and bisexual children are more likely to be bullied as they’re growing up, even at an early age.

Bruell told the Post Independent in an interview Monday that she wanted to write a speech about judgment and labels.

“I didn’t think I could do that without being honest about this part of me,” she said. “I felt it was really important to leave the high school not hiding anything.”

Decoding the right-wing lexicon

Choo-Choo: Dismissive term for high-speed and light rail used by right wingers who are so backward in their thinking they associate these 21st century wonders — fueling commerce and transit systems from Paris to Beijing — with the 19th century locomotive chugging into Petticoat Junction.

Class Warfare!: Howl of hypocrisy by the powerful and their paid media hounds when anyone dares to ask why there is such shocking inequality, poverty and dead-end despair in a land that promises opportunity for all but makes only a tiny fraction of politically connected people insanely rich.

Collateral Damage: Memo from the “Defense” Department: “Ooops, sorry we dropped those bombs on your wedding … your school … your hospital,” etc.

Creation Science: Biblical fantasy.

Death Tax: Taxes levied on the estates of filthy rich dead people to prevent their lazy-ass descendants from becoming Masters of the Universe in perpetuity because of an accident of birth. See: Plutocracy. 

Entitlement Reform: Stealing the Social Security and Medicare insurance that workers have been paying into for their entire lives and handing it to Wall Street speculators.

Fetal Personhood: Anti-abortion legislation based on an unproduced Ed Wood horror movie. In the script, creepy fetal “persons” suck the life out of unwilling female hosts, mate with other fetal persons, buy angora sweaters and move to suburbia.

Free Speech Zones: Gated corrals into which militarized police herd and detain protesters so no one will hear or see their message. Free speech zones are utilized most often at political conventions and international economic summits.

Free Trade Agreement: Corporate license to maximize profits by exploiting foreign workers, destroying their native crops and industries and despoiling their environments without regulation. See: Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

Plutocracy: A society controlled by a small number of its wealthiest citizens, tolerated by masses who are convinced they will win the lottery and are anesthetized by talking screens. See: Telescreen.

Regime Change: Overthrowing a government because we can. See: Iraq, Libya, Guatemala, Iran, Chile, Congo, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, etc.

School Vouchers: Public subsidies of private, mostly religious education with no oversight of school facilities, teacher qualifications or student achievement. The Afghanis call them madrasas. Madrasas produced the Taliban.

Security Contractors: Mercenary armies of hired killers.

States’ Rights: The battle cry of modern-day Confederates who won’t grow up, who want to deny rights to any group they fear or despise, and who are building up scads of bile and weaponry to launch the Second War of Secession.

Telescreens: First predicted by mid-20th century authors George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, these ever-present interactive video monitors — from pocket size to IMAX dimension — have become the most effective means of social control in societies worldwide. 

Three Hours Hate: Real-life version of George Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate” from 1984, hosted by Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, et al., on a radio station near you every afternoon. Orwell sensed our capacity to hate on cue but underestimated how long some people are willing to revel in their hatred. 

Tort Reform: In a slam-dunk work-around for those pesky liability lawsuits, corporations can now write off punitive damages as business expenses. Liability? What liability?

Trans-Pacific Partnership: International coup, dictated in secret by corporate interests, that places multi-national firms above the influence and regulation of any sovereign nation and its elected representatives. TPP is soon to be considered by the U.S. Senate.

Wise Use: Euphemism employed by western state property and mineral rights militants to rationalize their theft and exploitation of Indian and public lands.

What is sexual intercourse? That’s for the Florida Supreme Court to decide

What does “sexual intercourse” mean in Florida?

The state’s Supreme Court justices are pondering the question in a case involving a 1986 law requiring HIV-positive people to reveal their infection before having “sexual intercourse.”

A defense lawyer told the court last week that Florida’s laws have always used the term to describe heterosexual sex and not any other sexual activity by either gender.

The case involves a man charged with a felony after failing to tell his male sex partner that he carries the human immunodeficiency virus. His public defender, Brian Ellison, is simply trying to get the charge dropped, but told The Associated Press outside court that the same defense could apply to HIV-positive heterosexuals who engage in anything other than traditional sex.

“In the history of Florida law the specific term, sexual intercourse has always been interpreted to mean reproductive sexual conduct,” Ellison said. “It’s not the way that I’d want to define it, maybe — maybe not the way you’d want to define it —  but that’s the way it’s always been in Florida law.”

Ellison didn’t try to persuade the justices that his client, Gary Debaun, did nothing wrong; instead, he argued that Debaun didn’t violate the law as written.

The record shows that Debaun’s partner asked him to take an HIV test, and that Debaun, who knew that he was living with HIV, gave the man fake test results showing he was free of the virus. A lower court threw out the charge, but it was reinstated on appeal.

A number of states legally require people with HIV to disclose the infection to sex partners, but Ellison told the justices that other states’ laws use term “sexual activity” or specifically spell out sexual acts, rather than use Florida’s narrow language.

“But would you agree that when that statute was enacted, it was the intent to make sure that anybody that was going to have any kind of sexual activity that could transmit AIDS advise their partner?” asked Justice Barbara Pariente.

That’s exactly the point Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Geldens made in arguing that the charge should stand. He noted that the Legislature passed other laws at the time aimed at curbing the spread of HIV, including education programs on how to prevent its spread through sexual activity.

“It’s clear that the statute was intended to address the harms that are at issue in this case,” Geldens said. “That’s exactly what the Legislature intended to prevent, and they used the language of sexual intercourse because they wanted to do that.”

But if Florida lawmakers wanted to spell out exactly what it means by sexual intercourse, it’s had nearly a century to do so, said Ellison. The term has been used in state laws since 1919, when Florida first required disclosures to prevent the spread of syphilis, gonorrhea and other venereal diseases, he said.

“It’s always been defined as between a man and a woman,” he told the justices. “In all of that time, the Legislature has never expressed any intent to give it a more expansive meaning than it has always had, both in this court and elsewhere in this entire criminal code.”

Pariente agreed that lawmakers have had ample opportunity to clarify the law.

“This could be solved easily by the Legislature,” she said.

Add it up: President Obama says ‘gay’ 272 times in 5 years

President Barack Obama’s unprecedented use of “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual” and “transgender” in his public statements is “contributing immensely to the political mainstreaming of LGBT people and marriage equality within American society,” according to a new report from the Human Rights Campaign.

HRC is the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

It’s report, released this week, also examines the public statements of former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

The researchers found that Obama has used the word “gay” more than any of his predecessors — 272 times in five years. The report shows that during Obama’s time in office, support for marriage equality has exploded, from 40 percent in 2008 to 53 percent in 2013.

“Words matter an enormous amount, and when President Obama uses his platform to declare that LGBT people are just as American as anyone else, it has a huge and historic effect. President Obama has helped the American people get to know LGBT people on a personal level, and evidence suggests that when people know us, they don’t want to discriminate against us,” stated HRC president Chad Griffin. “President Obama has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of LGBT people, and the power of his rhetoric has been an essential part of that legacy.”

HRC reported that:

• Throughout his time in the White House, Obama has said the word “gay” in a public speech, statement or proclamation at least 272 times.

• Obama has used the word “transgender” at least 33 times in speeches, statements and proclamations. He’s used the word “bisexual” at least 28 times, and “lesbian” at least 88 times.

• On the 2012 campaign trail, Obama used the word “gay” 62 times at rallies and fundraisers.

• On the 2012 campaign trail, Mitt Romney spoke about marriage equality only once, and it was in the context of excluding loving, committed same-sex couples from marriage.

• In his two terms in the White House, Clinton used the word “gay” 216 times in public speeches, statements or proclamations, of which 46 instances were regarding gays in the military and 80 instances were regarding Matthew Shepard or hate crime legislation.

• Obama has consistently emphasized that rights and the pursuit of success should not be denied to anyone based on whom they love.

• Since Obama has been in office, the percentage of Americans who support marriage equality has risen from 40 percent in 2008 to 53 percent in 2013, according to Gallup polling.

• Following Obama’s 2012 endorsement of same-sex marriage, the number of African-Americans who supported marriage equality skyrocketed to 59 percent, up from an average of 41 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

• The rising tide of public support for marriage equality has been reflected in opinion shifts by prominent GOP lawmakers as well. Republican Sens. Rob Portman, Mark Kirk and Lisa Murkowski have all endorsed marriage equality. And in February 2013, more than 150 Republicans signed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit striking down Proposition 8.

“When an elected official uses his or her platform to send a message of dignity and respect, Americans respond,” Griffin stated. “We hope that the growing momentum for equality will ensure future presidents – regardless of their party affiliation – continue this trend.”

On the Web…

www.hrc.org/ObamaReport

‘Selfie’ and ‘twerking’ top list of most annoying words in 2013

A Michigan university has issued its annual list of annoying words, and those flexible enough to take selfies of themselves twerking should take note.

In addition to “selfie” and “twerking,” there was a strong sense among those who nominated words to this year’s list that the word “hashtag” and term “Mr. Mom” had both run their course.

“Selfie,” a term that describes a self-taken photo, often from a smartphone, led the way among the more than 2,000 nominations submitted to Lake Superior State University’s 39th annual batch of words to banish due to overuse, overreliance and overall fatigue. Even President Barack Obama got into the act this month when he took a well-publicized selfie with other world leaders in South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

“It’s a lame word. It’s all about me, me, me,” wrote David Kriege of Lake Mills, Wis. “Put the smartphone away. Nobody cares about you.”

Since 1975, the list has grown to more than 800 words, many from the worlds of politics, sports and popular – maybe too popular – culture.

“The list is made up completely from nominations. We don’t just sit around and think of words that bug us,” said Tom Pink, a spokesman for the school in Sault Ste. Marie, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“Twerk” or “twerking,” a sexually provocative way of dancing, found a dominant place in parlance due to Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.

“Time to dance this one off the stage,” said Jim Connelly, of Flagstaff, Ariz.

“Hashtag” refers to a word or phrase with no spaces preceded by the pound sign on the microblogging website Twitter.

Others on the banned list include “Twittersphere,” “t-bone,” “Obamacare” “intellectually/morally bankrupt” and anything “on steroids.” People also tired of the suffixes “-pocalypse” and “-ageddon” used to make words such as “snow-pocalypse” or “ice-ageddon.”

And enough already with “Mr. Mom,” a reference to fathers who take care of kids. It’s also the name of a 1983 movie starring Michael Keaton, although many stay-at-home dads these days don’t like the movie stereotype of a clueless male.

“There were almost as many nominations for `Mr. Mom’ as `selfie’ and `twerk,'” Pink said.

He believes the title got traction again in 2013 due to news stories about the 30th anniversary of the movie.

“The phrase should refer only to the film, not to men in the real world,” wrote Pat Byrnes of Chicago. “It is an insult to the millions of dads who are the primary caregivers for their children. Would we tolerate calling working women, `Mrs. Dad?'”

“Adversity” and “fan base” – terms often used when discussing sports – got booed. Kyle Melton, of White Lake, Mich., said perspective is needed when referring to a millionaire athlete trying to get a first down in football.

“Facing adversity is working 50 hours a week and still struggling to feed your kids,” Melton wrote.

On the Web …

HTTP://WWW.LSSU.EDU/BANISHED/

Top words, phrases, names of 2012: Apocalypse, Gangnam Style, Newtown

The Global Language Monitor announced this week that “apocalypse” was the top word for 2012, “Gangnam Style” was the top phrase and “Newtown” and “Malala Yousafzai” were the top names in the 13th annual survey of the English language.

In the review of top words, the GLM said after “apocalypse” came “deficit,” “olympiad,” “Bak’tun,” “meme,” “MOOC,” “the Cloud,” “omnishambles,” “frankenstorm” and “obesogenic.”

GLM president Paul JJ Payack said, “Apocalypse – armageddon and similar terms – reflects a growing fascination with various ‘end-of-the-world’ scenarios, or at least the end of life as we know it. This year the Mayan Apocalypse was well noted, but some eight of the top words and phrases were directly related to a sense of impending doom.”

Payack noted the use of such hybrid words as “Obamageddon,” “Romneygeddon” and “Eurogeddon.”

A look at the other lists:

Top phrases

1. Gangnam Style.

2. Global warming/climate change.

3. Fiscal cliff.

4. The deficit.

5. God Particle.

6. Rogue nukes.

7. Near-Earth asteroid.

8. Binders full of women.

9. Arab Spring.

10. Solar max.

The top names of 2012

1. Newtown and Malala Yousafza. 

2. Xi Jinping.

3. Kate Middleton.

4. President Barack Obama.

5. Mitt Romney.

6. London Olympics.

7. Higgs Boson.

8. Europe.

9. Felix Baumgartner.

10. Senkaku Islands.

GLM develops its end-of-year lists based upon word usage in primarily English-speaking countries. To qualify for the lists, the words, names and phrases must be found globally, have a minimum of 25,000 citations. There must also be a depth and breadth of usage, which can be tracked in print and on the Web.