The Word of the Year for 2012
Each year, the major dictionary companies trot out their choice for Word of the Year and its runner-ups, based partly on search frequency and partly on staff consensus. Note that these words are selected not for their staying power — Words of the Year often fade into obscurity — but for the significance of their usage in a given year.
Merriam-Webster’s 2012 Word of the Year is a toss-up between capitalism and socialism, reflecting the controversy and debates about universal health care and discussion about the comparative government systems in the United States and in much of Europe.
These words are straightforward — except that they’re not: Capitalism is fraught with negative connotations (and not just by those who oppose the system), and many Americans, as an unfortunately lingering artifact of the Red Menace of the mid-twentieth century, confuse socialism (the concept, not the word) with communism and fear both even though the US government system, like many European ones, is irrevocably infused with socialistic components.
Dictionary.com’s choice is bluster, which means “loud, swaggering, often empty boasts, threats, or other comments” — an appropriate term, considering the unusually contentious political climate in the United States over the last year. The American arm of the Oxford Dictionaries chose GIF (pronounced “jif” and standing for “graphics interchange format”), thanks to the ubiquity of GIFs, simple animations consisting of a looped series of images, employed to humorous effect but also in scientific models and other contexts. They’re not new, but their place in popular culture has recently been elevated by the ease with which they are created.
The selection by editors at Oxford University Press’s UK headquarters is omnishambles, which denotes a thoroughly mismanaged situation notable for a chain of errors. The sense is similar to the American English acronyms fubar and snafu, which originated among service personnel inspired with an ironic nod toward the military’s propensity for describing bureaucratic phenomena with abbreviations. (For the record, fubar stands for “fouled up beyond all recognition,” and snafu is an acronym for “situation normal — all fouled up” — except that I’ve substituted fouled for another word starting with f, as do many others who cater to their own or others’ delicate sensibilities when they spell these terms out.)