Notable Words of 2012: From “Humblebrag” to “Eastwooding”

Plus: A plea to enter "douché" into the lexicon.

More words were created or repurposed in 2012 than ever before. Linguists and sociologists point to worldwide presidential elections, Hurricane Sandy, and the Olympics, as the inspiration for many of the terms and phrases that help to mark 2012. Some of these words will come and go like the events that created them, but I hope some of them stick around.

According to Allan Metcalf in the Chronicle of Higher Education, five factors have to come into play for a word or term to become a permanent part of our lexicon: 1) frequency of use; 2) unobtrusiveness; 3) diversity of users and situations; 4) generation of other forms and meanings; and 5) endurance of the concept.

He believes that of these five factors, the most significant is unobtrusiveness. I believe he forgot one: the word has to be fun to say.

Take “malarkey” for instance. It’s not a new word, but Joe Biden’s artful use called attention to it during election season. Say it with me: “malarkey”—it doesn’t rhyme with anything; it’s an unusual combination; and it contains the all-important “k” sound one can emphasize when angry. Just perfect when referring to someone else’s convoluted logic.

Sofalising” itself may be here to stay, but it’s hard to say. Sofalising refers to spending the night on the sofa using social media sites. I’d argue that most Americans keep their TV on during this activity, so what they’re actually doing is “hate-watching,” or “ partaking in “social TV.”

It’s totes obvi that people like to say “amazeballs” which is an insipid, silly word coined by an insipid, silly fauxlebrity (another good one that I thought I made up). People like to complain about it and say it like they’re being totes ironic, but obvi, they mean it, whatever it means.

Manufactured neologisms are funny—once. We laugh at them, maybe repeat them to friends once or twice, but they don’t “catch.” Lots of TV shows work hard to build them into their scripts, with Cougar Town possibly being the most transparent (google “friend test,” or “gay trap”). But television writers are so often successful that a new word has been coined for their new words: “teleword.” The most successful teleword of this year is “adorkable,” which is attributed to New Girl, Modern Family, and The Big Bang Theory.

When I first heard the term “Mommy porn,” I thought it referred to the Time cover and the other lovely lactating ladies that caused a stir back in May. But, no, the term doesn’t reference porn about mommies; it means porn for mommies, which somehow means the far less interesting Fifty Shades of Grey trilog—not porn, but erotica, but I won’t quibble. I predict this phrase, however, will stick and undoubtedly continue to be used incorrectly. After a public vote in September, the phrase entered the online Collins Dictionary as did “frenemy” and“floordrobe.”

Many words are created by adding an –ing to an existing word or name like this year’s “Eastwooding” and last year’s”Tebowing,” though I don’t think people have found the time to Tebow anymore, or that talking to empty chairs has really caught on.

A compound word we should no longer need is “mansplaining,” which I refuse to explain to you. I also hope I never have to hear about “pink slime” or “butt-chugging” again. I also hope we’ll get over “vajazzling,” though I’d like to see more of a need to use “ganjapreneur” or “potpreneurs.”

I hope many of the words used a lot this year make it. One of them pretty much runs my life, and so I’m glad I can put a label on it and not apologize for it: Apparently, like more than half of mobile phone users, I suffer from “nomophobia,” which is a fear that I’ve lost my phone, and anxiety when I have no battery or service.

I hear that Brooklynites just hate the phrase “tres Brooklyn,” but that sounds like a “humblebrag” to me. Just bragbrag Brooklyn, and admit that you’re stoked you’re the new Paris.

Speaking of New Yorkers, my friend Jonathan Burr has created a new word that I am trying to push—it’s even better than “clown question.” It meets all five of the Chronicle’s criteria, especially number five, endurance of the concept. The word “douché,” pronounced doo -´shā (exclamatory), meaning: Your statement is correct, but you have revealed yourself to be a douche by verbalizing it. For example:

“Hey, look! Bruce Springsteen, tireless supporter of the working man, cheerleader of public unions and all-around good guy is singing the populist anthem ‘Born in the USA’ on the TV!”

“Yeah, but, you know, Bruce hugged Chris Christie.”

Help me spread the word. You know you can already think of instances you woulda/coulda/shoulda said it. Douché also meets my criteria: It’s super fun to say. The American Dialect Society is looking for new or newly popular terms of 2012. Nominations can be sent to [email protected], or posted on Twitter with the #woty12 hashtag.

So, let’s do this thing. Why not? YOLO!