When I read that this year's Oxford University Press Word of the Year is "unfriend" I began typing a post about interpersonal relations on the Internet. Then I realized that the Word of the Year is a huge scam.
Facebook fans will undoubtedly recognize the New Oxford American Dictionary's 2009 Word of the Year, unfriend.
unfriend - verb - To remove someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook
"It has both currency and potential longevity," notes Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford's US dictionary program. "In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year.
"Currency and potential longevity" sounds like something a real Senior Lexicographer would say. So how do I know the "Word of the Year" = "Scam of the Year"?
Take a look at the OUP Words of the Year for the past four years:
Hypermiling - To attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one's car and one's driving techniques.
Locavore - The "locavore" movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers' markets or even to grow or pick their own food... Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.
Carbon Neutral - Being carbon neutral involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions (your "carbon footprint"), reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in "green" technologies such as solar and wind power.
Podcast - a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar
program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio
Don't you see? These are all just hacky trend pieces from that year, in lexicographic form! The OUP obviously knows their audience: Journalists and bloggers (ahem) looking for some excuse to take another dip in the honeypot and reuse those novel widgets and gizmos we've been hypnotically waving in front of your faces for the past year. (Here is a good example for "unfriend".)
The OUP itself all but admitted that the Word of the Year is nothing more than a silly marketing ploy. But each year, writers insist on treating it as some sort of important gauge of How We Live Now, because, you know, it's the freaking dictionary. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
The folks at the New Oxford American Dictionary have picked "unfriend" as their annual Word of the Year for 2009, a testament to how much social media is affecting the lexicon.
What it really testifies to is the fact that the Times Style section should hire whoever picks the Word of the Year ASAP.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go hypermile my podcast.