May I Have a Word With You?


By Tim Moran

Despite the digitization of just about everything, it's nice to see that words--plain, old English words (well, not always plain, as you will see)--are still in vogue on the Internet and that people are paying attention. The main attention-payers appear to be the folks at Global Language Monitor (GLM).

According to a recent release from the site, GLM each year produces a list of the top trending words for the following year just before the new year begins. So, late in 2011, the site announced 12 possible candidates for 2012. Now, just about midway through the year, three new terms have been added. More on that in a bit.

GLM uses some pretty high-tech means to measure something as low-tech as words. It employs what it calls "NarrativeTracker" to analyze language and word usage in the digital world. NarrativeTracker's analysis, explains GLM, is based on "global discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture about any topic, at any point in time, analyzing the Internet, blogosphere, the top 250,000 print and electronic global media, as well as new social media sources as they emerge."

In its recent word-trending update, GLM has added "obesogenic," "derecho" and "hen" to the list. These are now in the hunt to take on "Kate," "debt" and "Bak'tun" as Word of the Year. The site defines these added words as follows:

• Obesogenic: An environment that tends to encourage obesity. Lately it has been used to describe television ads that promote sugary and high-calorie snacks to kids.

• Derecho: A "land hurricane," which is a sudden storm with extremely strong one-directional winds, such as occurred in the Eastern states earlier this year.

• Hen: The Swedish attempt to create a gender-neutral pronoun to replace him or her or combinations. (A more detailed definition, from an article on Slate.com, provides a little more information: "Hen" is a "proposed gender-neutral personal pronoun instead of he [han in Swedish] and she [hon]. It was sparked by the publication of Sweden's first ever gender-neutral children's book ... that tells the story of Kivi, who wants a dog for 'hen's' birthday."

According to Paul JJ Payack, GLM's president and chief word analyst: "At 2012's midpoint, there has been considerable movement among the top trending words, and that trend will no doubt continue as it has during the entire life of our 1400-year old language."

Here, then, are GLM's projected "Top Words of 2012" in revised order:

1. China 2. Europe 3. The Election 4. Kate (the former Kate Middleton) 5. Deficit 6. Global Warming 7. Derecho 8. Olympiad 9. CERN 10. Obesogenic 11. Arab Spring 12. Bak'tun 13. Solar max 14. Hen 15. Near-Earth Asteroid

A lot of technology and thought went into determining what people are talking about and what words they are using. I, for one, hope "hen" appreciates it.