The Year That Gave Us Tebowing and Tiger Mother

Which new words did you learn in 2011?

The Global Language Monitor sites “occupy” as the most used word of 2011 and projects “Kate” (as in Middleton) for 2012. I noticed that I used “tweet” and “blog” ridiculously often in 2011, though it may have only seemed that way because they are ridiculous words.

There were days when I found myself saying to my interns, “Why aren’t you tweeting? You need to be tweeting! We should be tweeting at least once an hour!!!” And like those moments when parents, horrified, realize they sound just like their parents, I would realize I’d used the word tweet about 30 times in an hour, in a work environment, in an academic environment.

I use Facebook group pages in my classroom. While I’ve been doing so for a few years now, this practice came into question and I found myself both defending it and teaching other teachers how to use it a lot this past year. I used the word Facebook so frequently in 2011 that I actually found myself referring to it as … gulp … “FB.”

New words fly at us now at breakneck speed, though most of them do not “stick.” There are words that (I hope) will not stick because I hope the action they are connected to doesn’t either. While I am agnostic, “Tebowing” would be fine with me if I thought Tebowers Tebowed with feeling. I am all for expressions of gratitude, but too many people are dropping to one knee for the attention, even if it’s negative.

Some actions and their corresponding new words are just dumb, without even the premise of spirituality, like the Dutch “wildbreien,” meaning graffiti knitting, which was voted the best neogolism by the Dutch Lexicology Institute.

With the term “Tiger Mother,” Amy Chua got tons of media attention and book sales for writing a book about being the kind of mother no one wants to be. Will Tiger Mother stick as a mother modifier like “helicopter” or “ramp agent” or “single” or “bad”?

There are words I hope do stick, like Kummerspeck. Apparently around for a few years but seeing wider (hahaha) usage in America, Kummerspeck is excess weight gained from emotional overeating. (The literal translation is “grief bacon.”)

Too many words to list here are created due to technological advancements. I think m-commerce (“a business transaction conducted using a mobile electronic device”) will only be used by economists and sales forces. Robocall, a telephone call from an automated source, might stick, since people are crazy for robots. Clicktivism—activism or charity enacted from the comfort of your home by clicking on something on the Internet—stands a great chance, as both organizations and corporations are having success with using social media for additional exposure for their causes.

What I would call the most entertaining term of 2011 is “Bunga Bunga.” I am not saying I was entertained by young women being exploited by ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” sex parties, but I’m weird enough about words that I had to look up the etymology. Apparently, the phrase comes from a prank famous enough to have a name, the Dreadnought Hoax of 1910. The tale involves a prince, the British Navy and a cross-dressing Virgina Woolf—what’s not to like?

Thinking about bunga bunga makes me think about a couple of phrases that have been around a long time, but I only learned this year: “fluff girl” and “glory hole.” I will not define them here, but I will tell you that I also learned them in the hallowed halls of academe, between conversations about tweeting and blogging and Facebook.