It’s Word of the Year season again, and Daniel was repping Talk the Talk at the year’s biggest vote.
But controversy surrounds the WotY. Is it too white, too old, and too male? How can this be helped?
Daniel regales Ben with all the highlights on this episode of Talk the Talk.
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Gretchen McCulloch: Herefefe is why it’s toughfefe to say ‘covfefe’
Fake news is ‘very real’ word of the year for 2017
‘Fake News,’ Trump’s Obsession, Is Now a Cudgel for Strongmen
Most young Australians can’t identify fake news online
The gravity of an American president’s favorite catch phrase being used to justify ethnic cleansing will probably be lost in the noise this weekend, but it shouldn’t be. The truth has a big, red target on it now. https://t.co/YZVuMrRUi4
— Sulome Anderson (@SulomeAnderson) December 2, 2017
Dictionary.com Word of the Year 2017: complicit
Ivanka Trump interview: “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good … then I’m complicit”
‘Populism’ is Cambridge dictionary’s ‘word of the year’
Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg’s word of the year: tribal
2017 Marketing Word Of The Year: ‘AI’
Weekly Word Watch: Kwaussie, tribal, and the Silence Breakers
Oxford Dictionaries: Word of the Year 2017 is… youthquake
Youthquake: behind the scenes on selecting the Word of the Year
‘Youthquake’ Is Oxford’s Word of the Year. Sorry, Broflake.
Merriam-Webster’s 2017 Words of the Year
2017 saw both a sustained rise in ‘feminism’ lookups and a number of event-driven spikes.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) 12 December 2017
Column: 2017 was the year of the reckoning
Words of the year 2017: Fritinancy edition
“Harcèlement”, le mot de l’année 2017 en Suisse romande
“Appongeluk” Named Netherlands’ Word of the Year
“Fake news” is 2017 American Dialect Society word of the year
ADS nominees and winners (PDF)
What Is a Problematic Fave?
The Ratio | Know Your Meme
How to Know If You’ve Sent a Horrible Tweet
Milkshake duck announced as Macquarie Dictionary’s word of the year
Milkshake Duck: what it is, and why it’s coming for us all
The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! *5 seconds later* We regret to inform you the duck is racist
— TWlTTER DOT COM SLASH PIXELATED BOAT (@pixelatedboat) June 12, 2016
Now we can all play happy ‘framilies’
Find the tracks we play on the RTRFM webpage for this episode.
DANIEL: Hello, and welcome to this episode of Talk the Talk, RTRFM’s weekly show about linguistics, the science of language. For the next hour, we’re going to be bringing you language news, lexicography, and some great music. Maybe we’ll even hear from you. My name is Daniel Midgley. I’m here with Ben Ainsley…
BEN: Good morning.
DANIEL: On this episode, we are talking about the words of the year. Which words tickled our fancy, enriched our conversations, and zeited our Geist? More words than ever have been proposed, but is there a sinister side to this lexicographic event? We’re gonna find out on this episode of Talk the Talk.
BEN: Zeited our Geist. I dig it.
DANIEL: I think I’ve used that one before.
BEN: That’s okay, we’ve done a lot of shows.
DANIEL: We certainly have. And we’re back!
BEN: We are. But we’re… lesser.
DANIEL: Because Kylie is not with us.
BEN: Do you know where she is?
DANIEL: I think she’s feeling ill.
BEN: I heard that she nearly ran over a series of matrimonial processions.
DANIEL: That was because she was distracted by an otter.
BEN: I heard that the otter itself was driving a separate vehicle, but was intentionally endangering the wedding party.
DANIEL: Ah, that was because of a vendetta that the otter had with the groom. They had a past.
BEN: Oh. Anyway, Kylie is unfortunately not here this week, which is very sad because it’s the first show of the year, but she will no doubt be back in the chair next week. In the meantime though, we have oh so many words to discuss.
DANIEL: Do you know where I’ve been?
BEN: You have been traveling. I don’t actually know where you’ve been — like when we separate as a trio, it’s like the end of a Western. The three anti-heroes sort of like drift off in their different directions.
DANIEL: Yes, well, while you guys were drifting off, I was drifting towards Salt Lake City, Utah.
BEN: Very Western-appropriate.
DANIEL: Yes, very much. That’s because that was the scene of the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America for 2018.
BEN: Pew pew pew! Party time.
DANIEL: It was pretty amazing! There were thousands of linguists there in a really nice hotel. There were chandeliers.
BEN: So many chandeliers.
DANIEL: So many chandeliers, and there were nine parallel sessions.
BEN: That’s a lot.
DANIEL: Imagine, if you will, a festival with nine stages.
BEN: It’s… oh my FOMO! I can, like, I don’t even — look, despite doing a show like this I don’t think I like linguistics enough to get excited by nine parallel sessions. But even my FOMO is getting sort of triggered by having nine different sessions.
DANIEL: Is it fo-ing your mo?
BEN: It’s… my mo is so fo-ed.
DANIEL: One of the things that was happening at this was the American Dialect Society Word of the Year vote. This is something that we report on every single year.
BEN: There is… I mean, 2017 was weird. It was a weird year, and so much weird stuff happened; weird bad, weird great, weird weird. Like, it was just it was a very extreme — it was a year of extremes.
DANIEL: well, can I just tell you that the Word of the Year season, which we sort of had a break during…
BEN: I think it’s probably good we do, right? Like we just go a bit too hard.
DANIEL: Well, the Word of the Year season lasted from like end of November till about mid January. so there’s a lot to report on here.
BEN: Okay, we’ve got a lot to do.
DANIEL: Let’s get started…
BEN: Shall we do a tour of the world?
DANIEL: Let’s do a tour of the world.
DANIEL: We’re leaving the ADS alone for a little while.
BEN: That’s the big one. We’re gonna come back to that. Should we do, like, the dictionaries?
DANIEL: Okay. Let’s start with dictionary.com. Their word was ‘complicit’.
BEN: Oh, that’s a good one.
DANIEL: When you are complicit, you are not stopping someone from doing something bad.
BEN: It’s related to, in my opinion, like a lie of omission. A lie of omission is like when you’re not lying, but you know that you should be saying something right now.
DANIEL: You should be acting.
BEN: And you can.
DANIEL: Ivanka Trump is generally considered to be the most complicit.
DANIEL: The complicitest! And there was even a Saturday Night Live sketch about that. She gave an interview where she talked about being complicit. And also Arizona Senator Jeff Flake in a speech said he was not going to be complicit, despite voting the same way that Trump does most of the time.
DANIEL: So that was a big one. Another political sort of word was the Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year: Populism.
BEN: You could see why that rides in. I mean, there has been a very significant populist swing in politics the world over.
DANIEL: That’s for sure. Populism is defined as “political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want.”
BEN: Now, but I think Cambridge’s choice brings up an interesting question. I don’t know about you — maybe they are in Cambridge — but I’m not hearing a lot of people running around busting out ‘populism’ as a word or even ‘populist’ as a word. You hear it sometimes every now and then in a political discussion over like a couple of glasses of wine at a dinner party, perhaps. But I’m not hearing populism just bandied about willy-nilly.
DANIEL: I think you’re right. I think a lot of these Words of the Year are chosen not because of their frequency, but because they seem to embody something about the times we’re living in.
BEN: Which brings up a concerning point: that at the end of the day for a lot of those sort of choices, it’s just a couple of people in a room kind of being like, “I think this thing’s cool.” Right? Like more often than not.
DANIEL: I got that feeling.
BEN: Which might be a criticism we might have to come back to in a little while.
DANIEL: Sounds good. Sometimes it’s even just one person. For example, the linguist Geoffrey Nunberg gave ‘tribal’ as his Word of the Year.
BEN: For what reason?
DANIEL: Tribalism seems to embody something about the way that we use information. We seem to have these competing ecosystems that we can just live in.
BEN: Oh, like the the information echo chambers that we all inhabit these days.
DANIEL: I don’t think that’s new. I think that that has always kind of been the case. You could always choose your newspaper or choose your church to get information from. We’ve talked about this before. I’m gonna actually contend that the way things are now is not because we’re balkanized or we’re isolated informationally. I think it’s because we actually are in contact.
BEN: Well hang on, no no no no, but you said that we’ve always kind of been doing this. So what about the contact is different? What difference is that generating? What do you mean?
DANIEL: Well, here’s the thing: if we were separate, if we were isolated, then I could have my informational narratives, you could have your informational narratives, and we wouldn’t come together. But because of social media, we’re always in contact with people who are disagreeing.
BEN: Okay, so the extent of polarization is the result of this contact.
DANIEL: I think so. I think it means that we have to embark on these ways of negating each other’s views.
BEN: It’s like the guard-hairs on a carnivorous plant, right? Like it’s only when you go up to a Venus Flytrap and give it a flick that it kind of like — shoonk — closes its jaws. And I guess that’s kind of what we’re doing as little tribal communities, right? We see someone say something extreme, and we’re like no no no no no, not cool.
DANIEL: Now sometimes we reject things because they’re just wrong, but sometimes we reject them because it’s threatening to our way of thinking.
DANIEL: We gotta make sure we’re pretty self-aware and know which one we’re doing.
BEN: Not always easy. Oh, Daniel, don’t make me reflect about who I am!
DANIEL: Sorry, sorry. Let’s try something different. Let’s talk about some of the head scratchers.
DANIEL: There were a couple of words…
BEN: A couple of noodle-bakers!
DANIEL: I was hanging out with linguists and lexicographers, and when these two ones specifically came down the pike, there was some head scratching. One of them came from the Australian National Dictionary Centre and it was ‘kwaussie’.
BEN: Quasi, as in like Q U A S I, quasi?
DANIEL: K W and then ‘aussie’. Somebody who’s a Kiwi, but also an Aussie.
BEN: Ah, from the whole citizenship thingy.
DANIEL: Yeah, in fact you had a great term for that.
BEN: Well look, I don’t mean to like buff my lapels or ride a wave of self-congratulation but ‘citizen-shipwreck’ is so much better than ‘kwaussie’.
DANIEL: That was so good.
BEN: Have you heard ‘kwaussie’ ever before?
DANIEL: No, it has virtually no track record to my way of thinking. And you came up with it on the fly. I’m so impressed!
BEN: Oh, stop it!
DANIEL: So that was one. And then the other one came from Oxford Dictionaries. It was ‘youthquake’.
DANIEL: You heard this one.
BEN: It’s just really dumb!
DANIEL: The word goes back to the 1960s. Apparently, they chose it because there was an election in the UK in June, and a lot of young people turned out and quashed the Conservatives. Quashed them I say!
BEN: It is as needlessly specific to the place that it comes from as ‘kwaussie’ is.
DANIEL: Hmm. Afraid so. Let’s move over to words involving women.
BEN: Ah, now: hooley dooley.
DANIEL: There was a lot going on here.
BEN: I feel like we almost missed out as a show
BEN: There was so much there that we could have talked about.
DANIEL: One word that was chosen by a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich, and also Nancy Friedman @fritinancy. They chose ‘reckoning’.
BEN: It’s so good. I like it because it just feels… it doesn’t feel revengeful. Yeah, that’s a word. I’m going with it. But it is imbued with a kind of righteousness, isn’t it? And not false righteousness, like justified righteousness.
DANIEL: You have been found wanting. The time of evaluation is at hand.
BEN: And so many have been. Like, it really doesn’t feel like there’s a better time in history to not be a total creeper.
DANIEL: Switzerland, for their part, had ‘harcèlement’ — that is, the French-speaking part of Switzerland. That’s the word for harassment.
BEN: Okay, good, yep. Pertinent.
DANIEL: Very much. Well, this has been a whirlwind tour of what was going on in the world of Word of the Year before the American Dialect Society meeting. But we’re gonna take a little break here and then hit it hard.
BEN: All right. Let’s hear a track.
DANIEL: Let’s do Radiohead with their track ‘Reckoner’ on RTRFM 92.1. Now remember, if you have any questions or comments about anything you’re hearing on this show, please get in touch with us. That’s email@example.com.
BEN: You can also give us a call: 9260 9210.
DANIEL: Our Facebook community is vibrant and dynamic, and of course Twitter @talkrtr.
BEN: Welcome back to this, the first Talk the Talk of 20-great-teen.
DANIEL: Ooo… and next year, we’ll have 20-fine-teen.
BEN: It’s too early! It’s too early! What are you doing? You’re front-loading 20-fine-teen?
DANIEL: I knew I would forget by then.
BEN: Just stop. We’ve got a whole year of 20-great-teen to get through!
DANIEL: You’ve got to go with these while you’re thinking about it!
BEN: 20-fine-teen after 20-great-teen; I’ll allow it. Look, it’s Ben and Daniel in the studio with you yet again. Kylie — I mean, tragically is not here. Do you know why?
DANIEL: I believe she was levitating and got intercepted by a hot-air balloon.
BEN: Really? I heard that she was sent on a contract murder job in Bogota but fell in love with a swarthy Arabian man who was there to kill the same person as her.
DANIEL: Ah, he failed to recognize her because she had dyed her hair blonde…
BEN: …from the hot air balloon accident. I see, I see, I see.
DANIEL: Yes, exactly.
BEN: Well, one way or another, obviously that relationship, though tremendously powerful, is destined for failure, and Kylie will be back here next week.
DANIEL: Yes, indeed.
BEN: But we’ve got so so many words to get through, because Daniel has been gallivanting around the world…
BEN: …just valiantly ganting all around the world. He’s been at the LDS… the Linguistic Dialect Society?
DANIEL: It’s the LSA. The Linguistic Society of America. [LAUGHTER]
BEN: Not the Latter-day Saints? Whoops… the Linguistic Society of America meet up? catch up?
DANIEL: Shindig. And as part of that, they had the American Dialect Society Word of the Year vote.
BEN: So many, many words. Like, how does it even work?
DANIEL: Okay, so what happens is they have two sessions. One was the nomination, where linguists, lexicographers, and even people on the street could cram into a room that was way too small, and they could suggest things in any of numerous categories, like “Most Useful” or “WTF Word” or “Political Word of the Year”. “Digital Word of the Year”.
BEN: Okay, and so that was just the nomination round. And then it went to voting.
DANIEL: And then the next night, they collected all of those that got nominated, and went to the vote.
DANIEL: I gotta say, the Word of the Year vote is not universally beloved by everybody.
BEN: I think I know why that might be.
BEN: Because it’s a little bit culturally appropriat-ey.
DANIEL: We did talk about this with Nicole Holliday last year, didn’t we?
BEN: Yeah, and I think this might be an opportunity for us to cop to some of this a little bit ourselves. I mean, as a show we kind of to a large degree do a bunch of this, which is basically, “Well, look at this cool thing I found!”
DANIEL: Oh, look at this amusing thing which some people made up and now we’re gonna take it.
BEN: And so the example that I’ll go to for this one is “shade”.
BEN: “Throwing shade.” We — being two white dudes, and Kylie, a white lady — just kind of were like: “Oh, man, check this cool word out. It’s like ‘throwing shade’! It comes from the queer community! It’s pretty cool! Like it’s great!” And end of bit, basically, right? And it was very much a bit. And I think the Word of the Year is a little bit the same, where we’re kind of like, “Wow, this is cool!” but not at any point necessarily acknowledging or honouring the huge significant back history of any given word.
DANIEL: And Dr Holliday, in our show last year, made a really interesting point, and that was that these words been used by (for example) the black community for decades. But when do they suddenly become part of the Word of the Year thing? Oh, when they become accepted into the “wider society”. Oh, what’s that mean?
BEN: So it’s when their notoriety rises and it would appear that certain people noticing things — i.e. white people — counts for rather a lot more.
DANIEL: Matters more. How about that; why would that be? It’s sometimes described as linguistic tourism.
BEN: Are these sorts of conversations going on in the collective of people who were putting together this list?
DANIEL: Very much so.
DANIEL: And in fact, I got the chance to have a bit of an interview with Grant Barrett. He’s the co-host of the podcast “A Way With Words”, which you should check out. He’s also the Vice President of the American Dialect Society. And usually it’s Ben Zimmer who does the Word of the Year vote. Ben and a lot of other people couldn’t make it because of the “bomb cyclone” —
BEN: Ah, yes.
DANIEL: The weather event that was happening. So he [Grant] along with Jane Solomon from dictionary.com took the voting. I got the chance to talk to Grant and ask him about this.
DANIEL (to GRANT BARRETT): Now I want to have this discussion with you, because it’s a discussion that happens over and over again…
DANIEL: …and it’s a good discussion, and it needs to happen. There’s a good deal of columbusing with the Word of the Year vote and it’s probably unavoidable. The idea of… you know, like, with columbusing, you find something that’s now to you, and you claim that you discovered it…
GRANT: It’s mine!
DANIEL: Yeah, and a lot of the vocabulary that we have, a lot of the breaking vocabulary, a lot of trendy vocabulary comes from the Black American community. And the problem here is that we…
GRANT: …as white dudes…
DANIEL: …say, “I just found a new and breaking word,” when actually this word has been in use with the Black community for decades. But suddenly when guys who look like us discover it…
DANIEL: Well, then, suddenly it’s new, right?
GRANT: Well, we don’t call it “new”. The criteria for Word of the Year isn’t that it’s new, but it’s newly peaked or newly popular so…
GRANT: But that aside, the general critique is a fair one. But there’s two mitigating things here, and I’ve actually had several conversations about this exact thing with African-American linguists in the last two days.
DANIEL: Okay, good.
GRANT: They’re just working through what this means, and what the complications are, and if there’s ways to remedy it in the Word of the Year vote. And there’s two mitigating factors. One is: that’s how dictionaries are made. Dictionaries don’t do representational lexicography, where they hire African-American lexicographers only for the African-American words. If a word is in the citation files and there’s enough evidence, then it goes into the hopper and it becomes a part of the dictionary.
DANIEL: No matter where it comes from.
GRANT: No matter where it comes from. So you don’t have to be a physics expert to write a definition for a physics term. You don’t have to be African-American to write a definition for an African-American term, so. And this other mitigating part of that is the Word of the Year vote is primarily a lexicographical event; it isn’t really a linguistic event.
GRANT: So Ben and I both are former lexicographers, and most of the previous people who’ve done the… led the Word of the Year vote have been lexicographers as well. And the Word of the Year vote is this kind of initial treatment of the word. It’s glib, and I think that’s a lot of the problem with it, is that we can’t take it seriously ’cause we don’t have enough information yet. But in the coming year, and the next four issues of the Journal of American Speech in the ‘Among the New Words’ section of that journal, Ben Zimmer and Jane Solomon and Charles Carson will do a full professional digging into these terms. They will give the history, they will tell what community it belongs to, they’ll talk about how the transition — if it’s there — they’ll talk about the transition into the larger body of English, and it will be fully laid out in a way that is not columbusing at all. There’s like full credit due where full credit is owed.
DANIEL: That sounds good.
DANIEL: And also more input from speakers of African-American English?
GRANT: Yeah, well, one of the problems is that the Linguistic Society of America as a whole, and the American Dialect Society — so the vote is actually officially run by the American Dialect Society, but it’s within the Linguistic Society of America conference — they’re both very white. And this is a problem that the leaders of both organizations haven’t successfully addressed over the years that they’ve known it’s a problem. There are new initiatives underway to try to make sure that we — there should be linguists, we know this is true — linguists of color have a different outlook on language than linguists who are part of the mainstream White culture.
DANIEL: That’s inevitable.
GRANT: Inevitable, and if you don’t have them, then you’re doing the field as a whole a disservice. There is information that is not being gathered and not being studied, because we don’t have people who have like the native speaker’s voice in that dialect, or in that particular way. We don’t have — as far as I know, there are no Native Americans who represent as Native Americans in the American Dialect Society.
GRANT: Right? How could we not have any? Right? But we’re working on it and so we have some new initiatives underway. We’ll see how it goes, it’s a slow moving boat, it’s — I often say, it’s like a steering wheel stuck into an iceberg. It’s just really hard to steer.
DANIEL: Yeah, okay. Look, I’m encouraged.
GRANT: Yeah, yeah, well, that’s the thing is like, my goal as somebody who’s been involved with the Word of the Year in a variety of ways over about 20 years is to find new people who are nothing like me who will take over the work that I do.
GRANT: And then they will bring up the new generation of people to do all those tasks as well, so I will hand that off as soon as I can to somebody who is very unlike me, and can represent voices that I don’t have, and can’t possibly know.
DANIEL (to BEN): That’s Grant Barrett, Vice President of the American Dialect Society and co-host of the podcast ‘A Way With Words’.
BEN: That all sounded great to me…
BEN: …but it would because I’ve spent five years of my life doing a show where we kind of glibly talk about words a whole bunch.
DANIEL: Mhm. I’m just glad that these discussions are happening.
BEN: Well, yes. A step above terrible, isn’t it.
BEN: Like, we can categorically say it’s not as bad as it could be.
DANIEL: But not fixed.
BEN: And acknowledged not to be fixed.
DANIEL: Okay. That is only part of the interview with Grant Barrett. If you want to hear the whole thing, you can hear that on our Patreon page.
BEN: He sounds very eloquent. But also very cazh.
DANIEL: He’s fun. His show’s really good.
BEN: Shall we take a track?
DANIEL: Yes, please. Let’s listen to Tourist Kid with ‘Under Armour Suite’ on RTRFM 92.1.
BEN: If you’re just tuning in, it is the first Talk the Talk of 20-great-teen, and we are yummying down on all kinds of delicious words of the year that have been and gone since we’ve taken a break. It’s just me and Daniel. Kylie’s not here — do you know where she is?
DANIEL: Kylie’s job at the turntable factory — she got caught in a centrifuge.
BEN: Ah, that would explain why, when I saw her, all of the blood had drained to, like, her back and the backs of her legs and everything, and because of that, she had caused a series of traffic accidents as people assumed she was, like, a red stop sign when she was facing away from oncoming traffic. So sad. But I’m told that the blood will eventually congeal and spread back throughout the rest of her body, so she should be here next week.
DANIEL: I told them to reverse it. I don’t know if they did or not.
BEN: Oh, smart, smart, smart. Well, genius is never appreciated in its own generation, Daniel.
BEN: Look, we’ve got lots of words to get through, so it’s time for the proper list.
DANIEL: This is the list from the American Dialect Society Word of the Year 2017 vote. Let’s start with the first category: Emoji of the Year. A new one! So did they like goat (🐐) the goat emoji?
BEN: Why like the goat emoji?
DANIEL: It stands for “greatest of all time”.
DANIEL: There was also the peach (🍑) but with an IM in front of it, as in “impeach”. There was the thinking face (🤔). I’ve got to say…
BEN: I like thinking face.
DANIEL: The thinking face. I’ve gotten so much use out of thinking face.
BEN: It’s like a very polite way to say “I don’t know what the flip you’re talking about.”
DANIEL: Is it like the new “um”? Like when you disagree with someone?
BEN: Yeah, but even less passive-aggressive, because it really does come across this just kind of like “I’m trying to puzzle out your meaning.”
DANIEL: That’s interesting. I have never used it that way.
DANIEL: I’ve used this as a timing thing. Like I’ll put it up front: “I’m thinking about this here” and then what I’m trying to say is I’m feeling my way along here.
BEN: Interesting, yeah. I like it a lot.
DANIEL: Yeah. But the winner: woman with head scarf or hijab (🧕).
DANIEL: That got the most votes from lexicographers, linguists, and anybody who wanted to attend.
BEN: Now, is that recently added to the emojipedia?
DANIEL: Yes, that one and the thinking face: brand new this year.
BEN: Ah, cool, cool, cool.
DANIEL: Okay, next one. Hashtag of the Year.
BEN: Hmm! I wonder what could possibly take this category out!
DANIEL: Me too! Oh…
BEN: Zing, zing, zing.
DANIEL: I gave it away.
BEN: But what was in contention? Let’s find out.
DANIEL: The other ones: #NeverthelessShePersisted
BEN: Too long. It’s great, but it’s too long.
DANIEL: I love it though, because this is what the Senate head Mitch McConnell said about Elizabeth Warren during a debate. She took too long, she was told to stop. “Nevertheless, she persisted.” And everyone said, “Right, I’m using that.”
BEN: [GUN SOUND] Pchoo choo.
DANIEL: The other one was “resist” — #resist, and I think that was a good one too.
BEN: What was that? Just a general sort of, just like, “Keep doing it”?
DANIEL: A general sort of anti-Trump resistance.
BEN: But of course.
DANIEL: #metoo. It’s huge.
BEN: I personally have never seen, like, a clicktivist thing carry so so much emotional weight. It was just bananas. I basically had my opinion turned around about the power of social media, because I had more or less just resigned it to the garbage bin of noisy pointlessness for the most part. I saw so few examples of any kind of change happening. Like the tribalism we were talking before, all I could see was spiky people just prodding each other with pikes all of the time, and it just it wearied me. And #metoo just like smashed through that.
DANIEL: Oh, this is happening.
DANIEL: You just sort of stood in awe, and said, “Cheese it, there’s a lot of these stories here.”
BEN: Mm-hmm, so yes, I totally understand why #metoo won.
DANIEL: Euphemism of the year!
BEN: Euphemism of the year.
DANIEL: One was “avocado toast”.
BEN: Ha! LOL.
DANIEL: “A minor indulgence for which people unfairly judge others, especially millennials.” I think it’s interesting how the avocado toast thing jumped from continent to continent in the English-speaking world.
BEN: I didn’t know that it did! I thought that was just an Australian thing.
DANIEL: You saw it pop up in Australia, but then somebody in America did the same thing.
DANIEL: A lawmaker or something, judging millennials for, you know, enjoying things because apparently you’re only supposed to enjoy things if you’re older and well-off.
BEN: Right. A good Methodist work ethic: “Are you having fun? Then you’re not working hard enough.”
DANIEL: One of my favorites: “problematic”.
BEN: Mmm. This is interesting, because I read what that would the sort of the description they laid out in the form, which you can read now for me.
DANIEL: “An understated way to say something is very wrong or unacceptably politically incorrect.” I just think when I hear, you know, “problematic”, I just think someone has said something horribly racist sexist or otherwise.
BEN: I don’t necessarily go to that extent. I do think that it gets used in that context all the time, but I was having a discussion with someone the other day where they kind of looked at me and they said “Well, I find that statement somewhat problematic,” and I was like “You can just call it bad.” Like…
DANIEL: It’s okay!
BEN: “But no, no, no, I didn’t use the word ‘bad’.” I’m like, “Your sentence makes perfect sense if we change the word ‘problematic’ to ‘bad’. You’re talking about a bad thing.” It’s just a polite lefty way of saying bad.
DANIEL: That’s a bit bad.
BEN: It is a polite mild way for things that perhaps we should actually be getting angry about.
DANIEL: Well, it is a candidate for Euphemism of the Year.
DANIEL: But the winner was “alternative facts”.
DANIEL: Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s surrogate — and I love this one, because you could just see her brain saying “Don’t say that, don’t say that”, but she did. “He was given some facts, and then the person on my team gave… alternative facts… to that.”
DANIEL: People pounced on it, and I love it.
BEN: Alternative facts… Do you mean… lies?
DANIEL: You could tell that she meant to say something like “opposing facts” or “contradictory facts”, but “alternative facts” it is.
BEN: It’s very rare that the following sentence is gonna come out of my mouth: You gotta feel a little bit bad for the people in the Trump camp, like to be to be so constantly needing to justify sheer insanity. Like, of course your brain is gonna break! Like, how could it not?
DANIEL: But you never saw Kellyanne Conway on television again after that.
BEN: It’s true.
DANIEL: That was Euphemism of the Year: alternative facts. Next one: Most Creative! Here we go.
BEN: I love this one.
DANIEL: What is an askhole, Ben?
BEN: Aw, it’s just apparently someone who still hasn’t discovered what Google is.
BEN: I just… I got no time for people who don’t want to learn things, and I’m a teacher, right? Like, my actual day-to-day job is teaching people, many of whom don’t necessarily want to learn the things I want to teach them.
DANIEL: Maybe not.
BEN: Then when like big adult humans come and like “Bla-bla-bla-bla.” Oh, it’s this thing. “Bla-bla-bla-bla.” It’s… it’s the natural logical follow-on from the previous thing I said. “Bla-bla-de-bla-bla.” It’s… all of this is very findable information! Why are you bothering me?
DANIEL: The winner: broflake! Which was one of ours.
BEN: [LAUGHTER] I mean, take your group of power of choice, and put “fragility” after it.
DANIEL: Right, yeah.
BEN: White fragility.
BEN: Male fragility, whatever you like… this is what broflake is, basically.
DANIEL: Yeah, it’s somebody who calls out somebody for being a snowflake, but they’re incredibly fragile themselves.
DANIEL: The one that didn’t win in this category of Most Creative, though, was one that I feel really got a bad deal, because it wasn’t well known.
DANIEL: And maybe people listening haven’t heard it. It is “milkshake duck”. Are you aware of milkshake duck?
BEN: It took me… it actually… I saw it about for a while and I didn’t get it and so I just kind of let it go, thinking that it would either rise in prominence to the point where I understood it, or die. And it just… it just ever so barely got to the rising point. Like, it just nibbed prominence, and then fell away a little bit. But it’s basically the idea that it’s when something that was previously beloved by people — especially by the Left — gets dumped into the pool of like, “Oh, wait, no, actually it was bad all along.”
DANIEL: So it was problematic.
BEN: Take your pick, right? Aziz Ansari, Louis C.K. — like, all of these are milkshake ducks.
DANIEL: The term comes from a tweet by @pixelatedboat. Here’s the tweet: “The whole internet loves milkshake duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! [five seconds later] We regret to inform you the duck is racist.”
BEN: See, I had always assumed it was our beloved people ducking out of the way of people throwing milkshakes at them! That’s what I interpreted.
DANIEL: That’s a valid interpretation, but no, it’s this imaginary scenario. So imagine the kid who tearfully spoke out against his bullies, right? That video that went viral, and then it turned out that the dad and possibly the mom were kind of into white supremacism. Mmm.
BEN: Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha.
DANIEL: Don’t forget, also: a milkshake duck can be a verb. “I can’t believe this person hasn’t been milkshake ducked yet.”
BEN: Yeah, nice one.
DANIEL: You know, when that came up for the vote, it was sort of like everybody said, “What is a milkshake duck?” And so, yeah, I feel like…
BEN: …it didn’t get a good shake.
DANIEL: So to speak.
BEN: I didn’t even mean to do that. [LAUGHTER] Shazam! Ben Ainslie comin’ atcha!
DANIEL: Let’s just do one more before we cut to a break.
DANIEL: Most Likely to Succeed. One was “stan”, the verb.
BEN: As in “suffix for countries”?
DANIEL: No, it’s, “Who do you stan for?”
BEN: Like the Eminem song?
DANIEL: Like the Eminem song.
BEN: [LAUGHS] Cool. Look, I got a place in my heart for him. I was 13 in 2000.
DANIEL: The other one in this category was “unicorn”: a one-of-a-kind person or a thing.
BEN: I’ve been using that for years! For years!
DANIEL: Well, if the Linguistic Society of America was less old and more polyamorous, than they would have known about it earlier.
BEN: Look, if they were more Ben Ainslie, they would have been fine with that.
DANIEL: But the winner in this category was “fake news”! And we are gonna have more to say about fake news.
DANIEL: So let’s listen to the Mountain Goats with “Unicorn Tolerance” on RTRFM 92.1.
BEN: Now we are coming back into this fourth and final bracket of Talk the Talk. We’ve been talking about the Words of the Year. So far, we have not yet come to the big granddaddy.
DANIEL: Let’s go through some more of our categories. These are words that were voted on by linguists, lexicographers, and members of the American Dialect Society — and yours truly! I was there! I was running microphones up and down the aisles.
BEN: He did it!
DANIEL: I did it! It was great! You were all alone. Aw…
DANIEL: Most Useful. We’ve talked about this one at our Doogs show: “angry react and sad react”.
BEN: Hell of a good one.
DANIEL: “-burger” as in “nothingburger”.
DANIEL: “Millennial pink” — another one of ours.
DANIEL: But the most useful: “die by suicide”.
BEN: As in, like, “die by cop” kind of thing? Suicide by cop, or whatever?
DANIEL: No, different. Usually what people say nowadays is “commit suicide”.
DANIEL: But there’s a little problem with the word “commit” in this context. Remember, you can know a lot about a word by the company it keeps.
DANIEL: So let’s just take a look, shall we? at words that seem to travel with “commit”. Can you guess?
BEN: Commit murder,
DANIEL: That’s one.
BEN: Commit adultery…
BEN: Commit fraud…
BEN: Commit espionage… um…
DANIEL: Here are the collocations: crime, suicide, murder, sin, atrocity, perjury, violence, fraud, adultery, conspiracy.
BEN: So people are putting it out there that we need to take “commit” away from it, because every other kind of person who commits a thing commits a really really bad thing.
DANIEL: Yep, and for people whose lives have been touched by suicide… maybe we could say something else.
BEN: Okay, yeah, that seems fair.
DANIEL: Yes, committing suicide… the favoured term now is “die by suicide”.
DANIEL: And that is Most Useful.
BEN: Die *from* suicide? Could we say that? Would that work?
DANIEL: Die from suicide?
BEN: Because it takes even, like, it introduces even a further distance, I find.
DANIEL: Prepositions are notoriously squiggly. I wouldn’t be surprised to find three candidates and then everyone settles on one in ten years.
DANIEL: Hmm! We’re still at the beginning of this.
DANIEL: Next one: Slang or Informal Word.
BEN: Ooo! That is always my fave.
DANIEL: This wasn’t even gonna be on the list. This is a totally new category.
BEN: Now to be fair, though, this is probably — to use the word that I was giving a hard time to before — one of the more problematic ones, because so much of our slang we just pilfer from the minority community. So what have we got?
DANIEL: We’ve got “rip” or r.i.p. “Rip my car.”
BEN: Do you know what… this is a thing that has been huge with teens for a while now. That has been my experience. I have heard lots of kids say this.
DANIEL: How do we use this? I’m not even sure. Did I say it right?
BEN: I’ve heard like “RIP in peace” and stuff, which is like this weird meta thing going on.
BEN: But yeah, just R.I.P., rip; “thing”. Like, “rip my social standing” — not that a teenager would ever say that, but you know.
DANIEL: Here’s another one: “snatched”. “Good-looking, or attractive.”
DANIEL: I don’t know why. In the 70s, we said “stacked”, but that’s another story.
BEN: “Snatched”, because… uh… there’s only one body part that comes to mind.
DANIEL: I know, I know, but there you go. “Shooketh.”
DANIEL: Never heard this one?
BEN: Like, the earth shooketh?
DANIEL: Well, it’s a funny way of saying that you were surprised or shocked.
BEN: Can I have the word in a sentence?
DANIEL: [Hands BEN paper] Here’s a bunch. Read ’em.
DANIEL: I’m getting this from the Now Corpus.
BEN: Okay: “News first broke that Lifetime would be releasing an Oscar Pistorius movie. South Africans were shooketh!” “Nearly a hundred people from this page went to follow that account. I’m shooketh.”
DANIEL: That’s it. Shooketh.
BEN: It’s like “shocked”. You could use the word “shocked” in all of those sentences.
DANIEL: But that funny little “eth” ending.
DANIEL: A little archaism. But that wasn’t the winner. The winner was “wypipo”:
DANIEL: W Y P I P O.
BEN: Now, this is an interesting one, isn’t it, because obviously it’s super culturally appropriatey, but it’s so culturally appropriatey that I would not be willing to use it.
BEN: Because it sounds like linguistic blackface, because you’re actually emulating the exact tonality of how an African-American English speaker may say it.
DANIEL: It means “a humorous phonetic spelling of ‘white people’, used to flag white privilege, cluelessness, or absurdity.”
BEN: My brain kind of goes “This is cool, because I’m not seeing white people use it.”
BEN: Right, so it’s kind of staying within the community but…
DANIEL: …but it’s acknowledged here.
BEN: But it’s… yeah. But it’s getting notoriety, which means people of colour are using it about white people, and we’re kind of going “Fair cop.”
DANIEL: I’ll eat that.
DANIEL: And it’s kind of a way of saying that white privilege, white cluelessness is not okay.
DANIEL: And so maybe it’s in a good cause. That was the winner: Slang or Informal Word of the Year.
BEN: That’s fun.
DANIEL: Digital Word of the Year – boy, there were a ton here.
BEN: Oh, boo.
DANIEL: Here are some of the more interesting ones: “rogue” — I suggested this one.
BEN: Oh, like “going rogue”?
DANIEL: Going rogue. Describing “someone ostensibly working in at administration who’s posting messages against it”.
DANIEL: Bitcoin left its mark. There was “initial coin offering” and also “blockchain”.
DANIEL: Have you heard “ratio”? Getting ratioed?
BEN: No. What?
DANIEL: My tweet is getting ratioed.
BEN: What does that mean?
DANIEL: Well, there are three things you can do with someone’s tweet. You can like it.
DANIEL: You can retweet it.
DANIEL: Those are both good.
DANIEL: You can also comment on it, which could be a good comment or a bad comment. Well, if somebody’s tweet is getting no likes or retweets but tons of comments…
DANIEL: It’s a bad tweet.
DANIEL: So you’re getting ratioed.
DANIEL: “Digital blackface”:
DANIEL: when a usually white person uses images of black people as a proxy for themselves on social media.
BEN: Ew, that’s super gross.
DANIEL: It can also refer to using GIFs or emojis of black people as a reaction to something. Like, nobody’s saying you should never do it, but it’s worth thinking about: if I post a reaction GIF featuring a Black person, am I somehow communicating: “Black people are so extra!” You know, are we laughing at or laughing with? I think this is worth a little bit of self-analysis. But the winner is — and this is a surprise. This one came from the floor, this one was like a last minute entry: “shitpost”. [LAUGHTER] It’s been around for a long, long time, but for some reason…
BEN: It’s as old as “flame war”.
DANIEL: Just about.
DANIEL: But for some reason, maybe there’s more shitposting going on these days.
DANIEL: Political Word of the Year: do you like, “antifa”, “persister” or “persisterhood”, or “take a knee”?
BEN: Mmm… I don’t really like “antifa” — not like as in I don’t really like the movement, but it just doesn’t seem particularly weighty to me.
BEN: “Persisterhood” seems a little bit… it’s a good pun though.
DANIEL: It is very nice for “persisterhood” or even a “persister”.
BEN: It’s lovely, and I kind of want it to win, but I have a feeling “take a knee” might take it out.
DANIEL: You are exactly right: “to kneel in protest, especially during a time when others are standing.”
BEN: I gotta say, the reason I love this one so much is because it drives your countrymen wild!
DANIEL: I love it.
BEN: Oh my goodness, it’s a red rag to a bull!
DANIEL: It triggers exactly the right people.
BEN: I don’t know — look, as a not particularly patriotic person at all I just find it so fascinating when people become, like, legitimately enraged about the country and the love of the country.
DANIEL: And the symbolism.
BEN: Yes, it’s super intense.
DANIEL: And my response would be: if you think that the symbolism is more important than the protest of people dying, then there’s something really wrong with your priorities.
BEN: Because the people who took a knee no doubt got, like, a whole bunch of death threats from crazy folk, and I just can’t figure out in what universe a person wants to, like, kill a person who doesn’t stand up for a national anthem, but is happy with the healthcare system that exists in America. That trades in two currencies: money and misery and suffering! Like, it’s such a bizarre priority!
DANIEL: But now…
DANIEL: We are to the big one.
BEN: [sings ominous theme] Dun dun DUHHHHH…!
DANIEL: The Word of the Year. Here are some that didn’t win: #MeToo.
DANIEL: “Milkshake duck” made a second appearance.
BEN: Oh, good on it. What a nice little sort of second showing.
DANIEL: “Take a knee”, “persisterhood” and “alternate facts” all showed up again.
DANIEL: But here are some that didn’t win, that were new: “whomst”.
DANIEL: Or even whom’st’ve! “A humorous variant of whom used as a sarcastic display of intelligence.”
BEN: Oh, as in, like, you’re sort of poking fun at yourself, trying to be all hoity-toity?
BEN: Okay, cool, I like it.
DANIEL: There was also “pussy hat”. Which seems a little 2016 to me.
BEN: That seems very 2016 to me.
DANIEL: But the winner!
DANIEL: “Fake news”.
BEN: Well, yeah, good. I guess, like — but also not, because it’s a thing.
DANIEL: It’s not a wonderful thing, and in fact, as I was running microphones up and down along with Lauren Gawne from Lingthusiam; that was fun, both of us, sort of handing people the mic…
DANIEL: Anybody could give a speech to encourage people to vote for a thing, and Lane Greene from The Economist — he’s a journalist and a really cool guy — stood up and gave this impassioned speech about why “fake news” should be the Word of the Year.
BEN: Did you record it?
DANIEL: I didn’t record it.
BEN: Boo! What were you even there for, Daniel?!
DANIEL: I do remember it, though, and it was something like that fake news is interesting because in 2016 “fake news” meant a thing. It meant news intended to deceive. But in 2017, it had another additional meaning and that was: it became this thought-terminating cliché. A way of dismissing news that you don’t like.
BEN: It’s flash! I’ve mentioned it before — it’s the crazy electromagnetic sulfur crap that spews out the back of a fighter jet to throw off the missiles it’s just like [scrambled noise]
DANIEL: Yeah. And he mentioned this, he mentioned that it was a huge epistemic problem. But it’s also a real hazard for journalists, and this is why we should be taking it seriously.
BEN: And by the sound of it, his impassioned speech did something.
DANIEL: It was persuasive, and that did get the most votes. It’s enormously influential. Ben Zimmer, who we’ve had on the show before, mentioned that his son in primary school — his friends say “that’s fake news” on the playground.
BEN: Oh, yeah. Man, nothing survives the memification of children these days. It’s just — it’s ferocious, and it’s fast. The flip rate on memes is crazy.
DANIEL: It’s also being picked up and used by strongmen dictators around the world.
BEN: Oh good! That’s exactly what the world needs.
DANIEL: For example, in Myanmar, one of the officials said “there’s no such thing as Rohingya” — that’s the people.
BEN: No, yeah, they don’t exist.
DANIEL: “It is fake news.” Once you’ve done that, you’ve dismissed the argument without having to deal with it.
BEN: Uh, cool. Well, that’s just tremendously sad.
DANIEL: It is sad, and yet by being aware of the words which typify our time, maybe this equips us to be able to deal with it.
DANIEL: Or perhaps not.
BEN: Well, look, I think it’s gonna be 20-great-teen.
DANIEL: You’re encouraged for 20-great-teen.
BEN: Yes, because twenty-seventeen ended on #MeToo, and I was stoked with that. As in, it’s terrible obviously, but the power that was afforded to people who did not have power before that point was very encouraging, and I’m hoping that 20-great-teen just keeps that [TRAIN SOUND] oo-oo! train rolling.
DANIEL: Well, let’s hope so. I’m encouraged by your encouragement.
BEN: Well, this has been a great start to the year I think.
DANIEL: Thank you very much for being a part of it. I enjoyed talking about these words, I enjoyed being at the ADS Word of the Year vote, and I’m very grateful to the LSA — the Linguistic Society of America — for allowing me to attend.
BEN: Now I’m assuming that, while you were over there, you got a whole swagload of awesome interviews that we will have peppered out through the rest of our shows throughout this year.
DANIEL: I certainly did. I’ve talked to some of the greatest minds in linguistics, and we’re gonna be having their audio interviews.
BEN: If you want to hear these full unabridged delicious meaty interviews with some of the biggest minds in linguistics, then head to our Patreon page where you can access the full and tasty missives.
DANIEL: And we want to hear from you. Why don’t you get on our Facebook page, or Twitter @talkrtr.
BEN: You can always give us a ring: 9260 9210.
DANIEL: Or send us email: firstname.lastname@example.org. But for now, let’s listen to Boat Show with “Fake It Till You Make It” on RTRFM 92.1.
DANIEL: Rick phoned in and gave us a possible Word of the Year contender for this year, 20-great-teen — and it describes a banana smoothie with a shot of coffee. Okay, now you’ve gotten my attention, Rick! Let’s see what you’re gonna call this thing. Well, he settled on kind of a portmanteau. The word is “cofana”. A portmanteau of “coffee” and “banana”. Okay, that is I would say pretty interesting. Although there is one thing that I have noticed about the kinds of words that survive for Word of the Year. They never seem to be portmanteaus. A portmanteau word, of course, is where you take, you know, a combination, a blended word, like the coffee and banana, you get cofana. Those words just don’t ever seem to survive. The ones that seem to survive the most are the ones that are an extra sense of an existing word. Like “tweet”. Would you believe that that was, a long long time ago, one of the words that was a Digital Word of the Year. And also, whenever you have compounds like “procrastination nanny”, which was in the WTF category or “milkshake duck”. I’ve really got high hopes for “milkshake duck”. I hope that this doesn’t go away. I hope that the milkshake duck has a bit of life left.
DANIEL: Robin on Facebook said “Oh, thank goodness, not a sign of ‘kwaussie’, not a sign of ‘framily’.” Yes, it’s true, the ADS ignored “kwaussie”. I guess that’s because it describes a uniquely Australian political situation, right? And this was the American Dialect Society. So yeah, it is a little bit American-heavy, unapologetically. However: “framily”. That was a new one. I can probably guess what that one means, as well. So, combination of “friends” and “family”. A lot of us have great families, and a lot of us have families that we are distant from, and so what we tend to do is we tend to assemble a community of like-minded people, and they become our framily. So I decided to do a little bit of work here looking into it, and it appears that framily comes back to 2006. It was originally suggested by a study commissioned by the UK food manufacturer Dolmio. And so “framily” is sort of like friends that become your family. So we’ll see if that one survives. Thanks, Robin!
DANIEL: Kylie — she isn’t here in the room with me, but she did however tweet from her seat on the International Space Station. Which I have no idea how she got up there. It appears that… I think she won something on eBay and the shipping conditions weren’t exactly clear. So there she is. She mentioned a pointless Twitter battle between two people but one person mentioned “youthy”. I like “youthy” because it reminds me of “truthy”, as in “truthiness”, Maybe this -y suffix is continuing its journey, meaning something ersatz, something that’s meant to seem like something else but actually isn’t. So we’ll see if “youthy” comes around. I found examples in the Now Corpus for it from 2011. I haven’t got much time to dig back, but maybe we can try that later on. I’ll add that to the list.
DANIEL: Look, big thanks to Grant Barrett for his interview. Remember to check the rest of that out on Patreon. Thanks to Tess, who’s going to be taking us Out to Lunch pretty soon. Thanks to Ben and Kylie, and of course thanks to you for listening. Be sure to check us out on Facebook and Patreon. That’s it for this episode, but until next time, keep talking.
BEN: This has been an RTRFM podcast. RTRFM is an independent community radio station that relies on listeners for financial support. You can subscribe online at rtrfm.com.au/subscribe.
KYLIE: Our theme song is by Ah Trees, and you can check out their music on ahtrees.com, and everywhere good music is sold.
DANIEL: We’re on Twitter @talkrtr, send us an email: email@example.com, and if you’d like to get lots of extra linguistic goodies, then like us on Facebook or check out our Patreon page. You can always find out whatever we’re up to by heading to talkthetalkpodcast.com
BEN: I heard that she looked into the eyes of a pelican, and then became a pelican.
DANIEL: That meshes with what I heard, because she has developed a taste for fish recently, and in fact she was missing for a few days because she was swimming out to Rottnest to catch her own.
BEN: I heard that whilst fumigating a house for cockroaches, the King of the Cockroaches actually approached her and said, “Hang on, let us treatsy in the land of my people.” And now she’s away somewhere, and we don’t know where.
DANIEL: Oh, I heard that, and I also heard that she was actually working on a book about this, and she was interviewing the King of the Cockroaches, and they’re working on a Fringe show.
BEN: I heard she adopted one too many cats, and created a dense black hole of cathood which she was tragically sucked into.
DANIEL: That one I do believe.
BEN: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]