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WOTY 2008: "Bailout" vs. "shovel-ready"

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April January 11, 2009 04:49 PM

Our long national word-of-the-year season is over. On Friday, members of the American Dialect Society -- founders of the WOTY concept -- gathered at their annual meeting and voted "bailout" Word of the Year 2008. A bit anticlimactic, perhaps, since the word had already been woty'd by Merriam-Webster, and it's hardly new. Maybe the San Francisco meeting included lots of voters too young to remember the last time "bailout" was big, the government's bailout of Chrysler* in 1979.

Anyway, the complete results are here. And for a summary of WOTYs named earlier, check out Bill Brohaugh's linkfest at Everything You Know About English Is Wrong.

Ben Zimmer made an excellent case for one of my favorites, the down-to-earth "shovel-ready," over at his Visual Thesaurus stomping grounds (it took the title Most Likely to Succeed). And though it's too unwieldy for everyday use, I also like the Most Creative winner, "recombobulation area": "An area at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee in which passengers that have just passed through security screening can get their clothes and belongings back in order."

"Joe," as in Joe the Plumber and all related hypothetical Joes, was a nominee but not a winner. It did, however, inspire a fantastic essay on the history of Joes in America by linguist Geoff Nunberg. If you didn't hear it on "Fresh Air" a few weeks ago, you can read it here, with illustrations. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Even if you did hear it on "Fresh Air," you can read it online. Quit nitpicking and link already!)

* I unaccountably wrote "GM" here -- and I am old enough to remember! Thanks for the correction, Jonathon!

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column The Word since 1997. E-mail her at

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