Word Of The Year 2007

It’s that time of the year again. It is finally starting to get cold (if you are worried about the global warming maybe you should become carbon-neutral) and the New Oxford American Dictionary is preparing for the holidays by making its biggest announcement of the year…

The 2007 Word of the Year is (drum-roll please) locavore.

The past year saw the popularization of a trend in using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives.

The “locavore” movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.

“The word ‘locavore’ shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment,” said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “It’s significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way.”

“Locavore” was coined two years ago by a group of four womenin San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. Other regional movements have emerged since then, though some groups refer to themselves as “localvores” rather than “locavores.” However it’s spelled, it’s a word to watch.

One sign that locavore isn’t quite settled in the English lexicon is that there are still arguments about how to spell it. Locavore is the original form, as coined by Jessica Prentice, one of four San Francisco women who challenged Bay Area residents in 2005 to eat only food grown within a 100-mile radius. As similar regional initiatives popped up in other parts of the country, some groups (especially in New England) chose to spell the term localvore with an extra l in the middle. The localvore spelling might be seen as avoiding unwanted associations with the Spanish word for “crazy” (masc. loco, fem. loca), as well as foregrounding the “localness” of local eating. But as I learned this week, Ms. Prentice had her own reasons for choosing locavore over localvore (which you can read about here). Which word will ultimately win out, locavore or localvore? Perhaps the “local eating” movement is big enough to accommodate both variants. Or who knows, maybe a dark horse will emerge for those dissatisfied with the two choices. Locatarian, anyone? How about proxivore?

Lexicographers, you see, do not possess a crystal ball that can predict which words will ultimately flourish in the linguistic ecosystem. All they can reasonably do is try to pinpoint which words have potential and observe how they spread (or fail to). A look at the runner-up list for Word of the Year reveals an array of such promising candidates. (And if you want to see even more, check out the words that didn’t quite make the cut on Dictionary Evangelist, the blogging home of Erin McKean, OUP’s chief consulting editor for American dictionaries.)

Some of the runners-up have institutional support of one sort or another that might help them in the long run: the Pentagon continues to order MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) to protect troops in Iraq, while scientists publish papers on the colony collapse disorder mysteriously afflicting honeybees. Some are boosted by zealous subcultures: the digerati are partial to bacn (“email you want, but not right now”), while indie film buffs approvingly mumble about mumblecore (the latest genre of low-budget, improvisational, youth-driven movies). And some words might have already had their moment in the pop-cultural sun. Will we remember the verb tase, a back-formation from Taser, now that videos of the “Don’t tase me, bro” incident have fallen out of constant circulation?

At OUP, we’ll keep tracking the development of these words, using the Oxford English Corpus and other tools at our disposal. And if their usage justifies it, the new words will get included in future editions of NOAD and other Oxford dictionaries. For now, though, we’ll just sit back and savor a year of wondrous words.

Runners-up for the 2007 Word of the Year include:

aging in place: the process of growing older while living in one’s own residence, instead of having to move to a new home or community

bacn: email notifications, such as news alerts and social networking updates, that are considered more desirable than unwanted “spam” (coined at PodCamp Pittsburgh in Aug. 2007 and popularized in the blogging community)

cloudware: online applications, such as webmail, powered by massive data storage facilities, also called “cloud servers”

colony collapse disorder: a still-unexplained phenomenon resulting in the widespread disappearance of honeybees from beehives, first observed in late 2006

cougar: an older woman who romantically pursues younger men

MRAP vehicle: Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, designed to protect troops from improvised explosive devices (IEDs)

mumblecore: an independent film movement featuring low-budget production, non-professional actors, and largely improvised dialogue

previvor: a person who has not been diagnosed with a form of cancer but has survived a genetic predisposition for cancer

social graph: the network of one’s friends and connections on social websites such as Facebook and Myspace

tase (or taze): to stun with a Taser (popularized by a Sep. 2007 incident in which a University of Florida student was filmed being stunned by a Taser at a public forum)

upcycling: the transformation of waste materials into something more useful or valuable

powered by oxford