If William Shakespeare were alive, he’d cry foul over the American Dialect Society’s choice for 2002 word of the year. He’d say, “Propaganda by any other name/ Is still an attempt to wrongly persuade/ And, in this case, hype that which should not be.”
He also might take issue with the fact that the American Dialect Society, which was founded in 1889 and has been choosing a word of the year since 1990, selected a four-letter phrase instead of a single word for its dubious distinction. But who’s counting?
Last week, the society named “weapons of mass destruction,” and its abbreviation “WMD,” the 2002 word (or phrase) of the year. The phrase joins the ranks of a handful of other notable terms, such as 9-11 (2001), chad (2000), Y2K (1999) and e- (1998).
But while these terms have been adopted into the mainstream vernacular, other winners have not. For example, in 1995 the words “Web” and “Newt” tied for word of the year. While the former, which refers to the World Wide Web, is now commonplace, the latter, which means to make aggressive changes as a newcomer and was also meant to reflect the prominence of former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, is (thankfully) not.
Wayne Glowka, an English professor at Georgia College & State University and chairman of the society’s new words committee, told the Associated Press that “weapons of mass destruction” dates back 50 years, “but you can’t turn on the radio or television without hearing about (it).” Glowka added that most of the nominations reflected the looming threat of war with Iraq or the suffering economy, a sign that 2002 wasn’t the best year.
Also winning honors in 2002 were “regime change,” used as much for its connotations to Iraq as it is in the workplace, voted most euphemistic; “Iraqnaphobia,” meaning a strong fear of war with Iraq, voted most creative; “wombanization,” a synonym for feminization, voted most unnecessary; and “neuticles,” a brand name for fake testicles for neutered pets, voted most outrageous.
The lone nomination for most inspirational word, “embetterment,” coined by President Bush, was voted down because “people didn’t want to encourage it,” Glowka said.
But oddly enough, the society seems happy to propagate the idea that Americans are so content with this looming threat of war we can’t get it off the brain. In that case, we are forced to question whether the society’s choice is meant to speak for the people or for the people?
Language is a funny thing. At its best, it can express an incredible range of emotions and ideas. At its worst, it can paralyze people from thinking beyond its limits.
Let us hope “weapons of mass destruction” makes it no farther than the 5 p.m. news and the American Dialect Society’s Web page, which – it should be noted – voted “Bushlips” word of the year in 1990. They define the term as insincere political rhetoric, which makes “weapons of mass destruction” both insincere and unnecessary.