Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wort des Jahres / Word of the Year

I saw an interesting article in the ARD Nachrichten about the 2011 "Word of the Year," which not only says a lot about the relationship between language/culture, but also about a language itself. A lot of the German "nominees", as well as last year's winner (Wutbürger), are neologisms, new words that were "invented" or used to describe a particular phenomenon. German is especially suited to making up new words, because of how easily you can form composite nouns. Interestingly, there are also lots of English-influenced words, or examples of "Gerglisch," on the list (#9 is "Killersprossen," or the "killer-sprouts" of this summer's E-Coli food scare). 

This year's winner was "Stresstest," referring to the stress put on various institutions and governments: the article names the banks, nuclear energy, and the Stuttgart train station debates. Personally, I think the choice is a bit lame, and rather vague, but I guess I wasn't here all year and maybe the word has been thrown around a lot. The Süddeutsche Zeitung has a list of all the "words of the year" since 1971 here

Also bemerkenswert is #7, "guttenbergen," a new slang word for copying/cheating (abschreiben). Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg was German defense minister, until it was revealed that parts of his dissertation were plagiarized.

In the States, NPR's Geoff Nunberg named "occupy" the word of the year for 2011. Not only because it refers to an event, but to a new kind of phenomenon, a new kind of language, and a new kind of protest (notice how "we are the 99 percent" made #10 above in the German list):

"The word itself can take credit for a lot of its success — this isn't an item like "debt ceiling," which just happened to be hitched to a big story. But give props to the magic of metonymy, too. That's the figure of speech that lets us use names like Wall Street, Hollywood or Seventh Avenue to refer to the things that go on there.

....So why not make "the 99 percent" itself the word of the year? Well, for one thing, occupy is that rare linguistic phenomenon, a word that bubbles up out of nowhere and actually helps to create the very thing it names. And anyway, "the 99 percent" wouldn't be part of our political discussions if occupy hadn't gotten there first.Entire article here

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