January 3, 2020 / 3:15 PM / 15 days ago

Sum it up! U.S. linguists to pick 'Word of the Decade'

Jan 3 (Reuters) - Leading linguists gather on Friday to decide whether Americans over the past decade were most affected by movements to end racial or sexual violence, cultivate respect for gender fluidity or some other change - and how to sum it all up in one word or phrase.

The American Dialect Society picks the “Word of the Decade” and “Word of the Year” at its annual meeting of university professors, grad students and word lovers of all ages, said Ben Zimmer, a linguist and lexicographer who heads the society’s New Words Committee.

“People want to choose something that stands the test of time and sums up the decade as a whole,” said Zimmer, who writes a language column for the Wall Street Journal.

Social media has turbo-charged the way words or phrases become popular, leading to some recent multi-word champions for “Word of the Year,” including “tender-age shelter” in 2018 and “fake news” in 2017.

Decade nominees include:

- “#BlackLivesMatter,” the hashtag used to protest alleged disparities in police use of force against African Americans.

- “Climate,” reflecting increased interest in the impact of climate change.

- “#MeToo,” the movement that has highlighted widespread patterns of sexual abuse and harassment that women have faced at the hands of men across many spheres of life, including business, politics and entertainment.

- “They,” when used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, particularly as a nonbinary identifier.

The society, founded in 1889 and dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, started selecting its “Word of the Year” in 1991 and since then has picked only two other “Word of the Decade” winners. Top choices were “web” for the 1990s and “Google” as a verb for the 2000s.

So far, “Word of the Year” nominations for 2019 include:

- “OK Boomer,” described as a retort to someone older who expresses views that are out-of-touch or condescending to young people and their concerns.

- “(My) pronouns,” an introduction used for sharing one’s set of personal pronouns, for example “pronouns: she/her.”

- “Cancel,” meaning to withdraw support from someone or something that is considered problematic or unacceptable, used in the phrase “cancel culture.”

- “Karen,” the stereotype of a complaining, self-important, demanding white woman, typically a member of Generation X or “Generation Karen.” (Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

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