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Global Warming Chosen as Word of Decade

January 3, 2010

"Global warming" is the word of the decade, according to the Global Language Monitor, as the term weighed heavily over both international political discourse and helped popularize the green movement.

The list of the Top 25 words contains a number that reflect the decade's challenges and tragedies — 9/11, bailout, and evacuee/refugee are all in the top five — and the increasingly connected lives we lead (Google, blog, Twitter, texting, dot-com, Y2K).

That technology is so well represented on the list shouldn't come as a surprise to followers of the evolution of English. In June, the Austin, Texas-based company deemed the one millionth word in the language to be "Web 2.0."

Other notables on the list, such as Chinglish (the growing English-Chinese hybrid language), Slumdog (referring to slum-dwellers in Mumbai, popularized by the film Slumdog Millionaire) and tsunami, point to a world increasingly aware of developing nations such as China and India.

"Obama" was third on the list, but, inevitably, former U.S. president George W. Bush left a bigger mark. One of his more famous malapropisms, misunderestimate, came in at No. 15, while WMD (weapons of mass destruction) took No. 18, and quagmire — what many had feared Iraq would become, and what Afghanistan increasingly appears to be — was No. 24.

"Looking at the first decade of the 21st century in words is a sober, even sombre, event," Paul J.J. Payack, the company's president, said in a release. "For a decade that began with such joy and hope, the words chosen depict a far more complicated and in many ways, tragic time."

The 18th-century English writer Samuel Johnson wrote that it's laughable for a lexicographer to "imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language and secure it from corruption and decay." Paul Keen, director of Carleton University's English department, agreed, saying the list "really proves just how alive language really is."

A term such as global warming, said Keen, represents the distillation of a complex concept into an easily remembered and evocative phrase. "What needs to happen for things to become . . . an initiative that people can mobilize around is to develop a way of speaking about it.

"It makes the science intelligible."

Or take bailout, another catch-all word meaning government assistance that has given unemployed autoworkers, opposition politicians and disgruntled investors a word to rally around.

"What we do to deal with the unfamiliar and with change is by using some of the most comfortable language we have," said Keen. "Politically, that can become important because it make things that seem threatening intelligible.

"It can be bad because metaphors can distort things to make them seem simpler than they are, but it can also make them more accessible to people."

And just in case you weren't sick of it yet, H1N1 came in at 11.

Source: The Province

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