By staff writer David Nelson
June 11, 2006
Essential New Word of the Week: Earthbreast (definition hint: golf obstacle)
Time to fess up: I’m a logophile. Some of you may not know what that means. Well, it has the word “logo” in it, and it ends the same way as “pedophile.” But if you think it means I want to have sex with the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo or the Nike Swoosh, you’re mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, that is one sexy swoosh, and I bet Chief Wahoo gives a mean blowjob with his enormous mouth, but “logophile” technically means “word-lover.”
So, yeah, I’m what you would call a word-nerd. Isn’t it great when hobbies that others might ridicule happen to rhyme with suitable insults? But I don’t mind, because it’s better than being a bird nerd, or a Greek freak. Actually, if your hobby is Greek, you should be grateful if rhyming insults is the worst you have to suffer.
Knowing lots of obscure words and their meanings makes me feel smart, even if standardized testing and earning power suggests otherwise. I might not make six figures, but I know what hirquitalliency means. Also, and I shit you not, there are girls out there who are attracted to guys with big…vocabularies. When I first learned that, I stopped using my pocket dictionary to fill out my underpants and started reading it.
“I think enough time has passed that I can reveal that ‘metrosexual' is really just a synonym for ‘neutered.'”
Apparently, logophilia is catching on, even among kids. I just saw the 2006 National Spelling Bee, and it was a real eye-opener. Why are there so many walking stereotypes in the spelling bee world? I’m talking about dozens of Indian kids whose parents make them study for nine hours a day. And Asian kids who play the violin in their 20 minutes of designated daily recreation time. And almost everyone has a lisp. It’s creepy, is what it is. C-R-E-A-P-Y < ding!>
Spelling, though, is a fairly mundane branch of language. I’m far more interested in meanings and origins. Words can have different meanings in different years. For example, if The Flintstones was conceived in 2006 instead of 1960, you can bet that the theme song wouldn’t mention Fred and Barney having a “gay old time”. Also, Pebbles would struggle with anorexia, and Wilma would be hooked on a brand of antidepressants with a hilarious pun name, like Rocksadril or Stonezaprine.
With this in mind, my mission this week is to examine some important words from years past. How can I tell what word was important in a given year? Well, there’s a group called the American Dialect Society, and part of their mandate is to choose a Word of the Year. This proves my theory that nothing on Earth is worthwhile unless it is eligible to win an award. I’m hereby not making another bowel movement until there’s some kind of a trophy I can bring home for my efforts.
I have no idea what criteria are involved in picking a Word of the Year, but I’d like to think they inhale a bunch of helium and test how funny the candidates sound. Here’s what their website has to say, though:
Every year since 1990 the Society has voted on words that are most representative of the year gone by. The chosen words or phrases do not have to be brand new, since few completely new words attain wide currency, but they do have to be newly prominent or distinctive. The selection is serious, based on members’ tracking of new words during the year, but it is far from solemn, since many of the words represent fads and foibles of the year. Some less well known words are chosen because they are ingenious inventions.
Got all that? Serious, but not solemn. Check. So take a trip with me, and let’s see how far humanity has progressed in past 16 years:
The year is 1990. Manuel Noriega surrenders to American forces in exchange for pimple cream. The launch of the Hubble telescope allows us to peep out alien boobies, if there are any out there. And the Word of the Year is “Bushlips,” meaning “insincere political rhetoric.” Now, before George W. Bush was summoned to this world from the demon realm of Tsaggothua, we had to contend with his dad, a president known both for his doublespeak, and his atomic backbreaker finishing move.
As much as Clinton enjoys being the meat in a Bush sandwich, George Sr. was no picnic. The best thing he ever did was vomit all over the Prime Minister of Japan. Inscrutable bastard had it coming, no doubt. The word “Bushlips” is derived from the now-famous soundbite “Read my lips, no new taxes.” At least, I hope it is. There’s a small chance that it somehow refers to the state of Barbara Bush’s labia, and if that’s case, I’m off to forcibly vomit.
“Read my lips, no new taxes” was catchy, clever, and also the biggest lie since Santa Claus told me he was only playing leapfrog with my mother. There were plenty of new taxes during his administration. As an unkillable mummy, I don’t know if George Bush Sr. requires sleep, but if he does, I hope the memory of those six words keeps him up at night.
Two years hence, the Word of the Year was “Not!” as in the side-splitting expression of disagreement popularized by Mike Myers’ character Wayne Campbell. Upon learning that fact, and as a member of the human race who shares some kind of genomic similarity to both Myers and the judges who picked “Not!” I want you to know that I just punched myself…hard, in the face. I encourage you to do the same.
It’s so hard to believe, but 1992 really was a time when “Not!” was a fresh gag; a way to subvert a traditional English word order for great comedic effect. You might go to school and say “Sure, I’d love a math test…NOT!” And everyone would laugh and clap and admire you for your keen wit. But try that shit in high school today, and you just might find that the security guards are being a little lax with the metal detector, so that someone can sneak in a lead pipe and beat your unfunny ass to death with it.
For whatever reason, many Words of the Year come from the world of computers. In 1993, 1994, and 1995, the winners were “Information Superhighway,” “cyber,” and “World Wide Web,” respectively. This illustrates a very interesting point. “Information Superhighway” was a clever little metaphor for the computer age, but weighing in at a hefty eight syllables, it’s too unwieldy for popular use. No one really uses it anymore.
World Wide Web, on the other hand, could be shortened to “www,” “triple-dub,” “W3,” or simply “The Web.” It’s like a smorgasbord of abbreviations; take your pick. Accordingly, the term has endured. Computer language needs to be brief; do you think our robot overlords will have time for eight-syllable terms when they’re liquefying baby humans for nutrition?
“Cyber,” too, has fallen into general disuse. It’s not a very long word, but it does sound incredibly dorky. Sure, in 1995, you’d hear it all the time, and not just in the Lazer Tag arena. These days, it can be a funny prefix for words like “pants” and “shampoo,” but not even the scrawniest of American Gladiators would consider taking it as a name.
In any case, the mid-90’s was clearly a time when technological developments were springing up faster than acceptable ways to name them. If you wake up tomorrow with an awesome idea for a midget-launching catapult, be sure you have a good name before it hits the market.
In 1996, Dolly the sheep brought science one step closer to creating an invincible army of Scott Baio clones. The Menendez brothers were found guilty of removing mattress tags and also, killing their parents. And amidst all this anti-motherhood news, the ADS chooses to make “Mom” the word of the year. Specifically, the suffix kind of Mom, as in “soccer mom,” which spun off forms like “minivan mom,” “waitress mom,” and “glory-hole mom.”
Moms are great; you buy them flowers once a year, and they’re happy. Awarding the Word of the Year to “Mom” seems like a bit much, though. At first I thought the ADS voting committee must have some serious Norman Bates/Oedipus issues to make this choice. Then I found out that soccer/minivan moms became hugely significant voting demographics to both candidates in the 1996 presidential campaign. That’s why “Mom” won the award. Though I still suspect the committee may have been bribed with delicious home-baked cookies.
The late 1990’s saw a return to computer-related words of the year, with just a splash of paranoia thrown in for good measure. In 1997, ‘98, and ’99, the words of the year were “Millennium bug,” “e-,” (as in e-mail, e-business, and e-rection) and “Y2K.” I know what you’re thinking: The first one is stupid, and the last two aren’t so much words as they are…letters. I guess that sometime in 1998, the American Dialect Society decided to keep things at a Sesame Street level of literacy (probably around the time Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota).
The new millennium saw the return of politics for Words of the Year. In 2000, the Florida recount propelled “chad” to the coveted award. That’s probably a good thing. With no disrespect to PIC’s Chad, as a name, it evokes images of Teen Beat magazine boy band members and gay porno actors. As a noun meaning “tiny bits of paper punched out from data cards,” it’s potential is nearly limitless! Linguists have barely even explored the subset of “hanging chads” yet.
2001 saw the award go to “9-11.” There’s not a lot that’s intrinsically funny about that, and I think America was probably too grief-stricken to notice that 9-11 is really more of a number than a word. However, if we acknowledge that, then the terrorists have already won! I won’t let that happen. Good choice, American Dialect Society!
I think the Words of the Year for 2002 were supposed to be “weapons of mass destruction.” But nobody could find them to be sure.
In 2003, the Word of the Year was “metrosexual” and finally, the ADS is making this a bit easier for me. I think enough time has passed that I can reveal that “metrosexual” is really just a synonym for “neutered.” Yeah, we get it. You don’t like guys, but you do like to moisturize and drink white wine spritzers.
Yes, there was a brief time when it wasn’t enough to drink beer, weigh 250 pounds, grow body hair, make fart jokes, and cook exclusively on a grill, if you wanted to snag a woman. You had to groom as if you were gay. Department stores apparently sold $86 million worth of male grooming products in the first nine months of 2003.
Now, the metrosexual movement has run its course, and the backlash has begun. The Word of the Year winner has fallen so far as to top the annual Lake Superior State University “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness.” Guys, this means if you go tanning or get your body waxed, you can longer rely on claims of metrosexuality to avoid that gay label. Lake Superior State University says so.
In 2004, the Word of the Year returned to politics by choosing “Red State/Blue State.” It’s cool that the best-known representation of the 2004 American political landscape also reads like the introduction to a Dr. Seuss book. Red state, Blue State, False State,
We end our analysis in the year 2005, when George W. Bush was inaugurated for his second term as president. And what of the Word of the Year, you ask? The ADS selects “truthiness,” a word popularized by Stephen Colbert meaning “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”
We’ve come a long way since Bushlips, baby. Not!
Essential New Word of the Week:
Earthbreast [‘erth brEst] n: Sometimes the brain sees what its owner wants to see. In cartoons and movies, if two characters are lost in the desert or stranded at sea, one will invariably morph into a talking hot-dog from the hungry point of view of the other.
That same mental process is what generated this week’s word. An Earthbreast is really nothing more than a hill. Sure, it’s a round, luscious kind of hill; the type that might surround the green on the 17th hole of a golf course. But just a hill nevertheless. However, if you go without sex for long enough, the hill might start to resemble something else entirely. Mother Earth may be a mythical personification of nature, but let me tell you something: she has some sweet jugs if you go to the right places.