Monday, January 7, 2013

'Hashtag' named 2012's Word of the Year

"Hashtag" is the American Dialect Society's 2012 Word of the Year, chosen by  grammarians, lexicographers, linguists and other language experts who converged over the weekend in Boston for their annual meeting.

The Twitter-inspired word beat out some stiff competition, including "fiscal cliff," "marriage equality" and "Gangnam style."

 "Big Data" also seemed a possible contender. Linguist Geoff Nunberg made a compelling argument on National Public Radio last month in favor of the phrase, noting that this term for massive amounts of digital data describes a monumental shift in the way humans mine information: "Epidemiologists watch for blips in Google queries to localize flu outbreaks; economists use them to spot shifts in consumer confidence. Police analytics comb over crime data looking for hot zones; security agencies comb over travel and credit card records looking for possible terrorists."

Several thoughts, here: First, I'm glad the winner wasn't "YOLO," the acronym for "You Only Live Once." After last month, I also hope to never hear the term "fiscal cliff" again.  But I wouldn't have voted for "hashtag" either. The American Dialect Society describes the word as referring to "the practice used on Twitter for marking topics or making commentary by means of a has symbol (#) followed by a word or phrase." I can't articulate why, but the word annoys me, though not as much as "fiscal cliff."

I had warmer feelings for last year's Word of the Year, "occupy," the only non-digital winner in several years. The 2009 word was "tweet," followed by 2010's "app."