What is your word of the year for 2009?

What would be your word of the year? Why?

The New Oxford Dictionary chose “unfriend” as its word of the year, but that clever choice is not the first, only, or last word.
This excellent article from Ruth Walker’s outstanding “Verbal Energy” column in the Christian Science Monitor looks at the choices of Oxford American Dictionary, Dictionary.com, Webster’s New Word Dictionaries, and Merriam-Webster dictionary. Reviewing the choices and possibilities, Walker wonders how any one word could be chosen above other choices.

An excellent article for English teachers, word mavens, and linguists, this column also reminds readers that even “objective” dictionaries make editorial decisions. One editor chooses “unfriend” and another “sexting” and “distracted driving” while yet might choose “Obamania”. Other popular choices include: admonish, hypallage, and befriend. Choices, voices, and perspectives differ.

Of course, one of the pleasures of teaching English is that we often rediscover vocabulary words – or at least a new appreciation for the vividness of American idioms – from our students. Like many other ESL teachers, I often ask students to develop their own vocabulary logs with ten words each week and select a new word of the week to build their working vocabulary. Students, who have often been trained to memorize vocabulary words for TOEFL or other standardized exams, usually embrace the homework assignment. Sometimes students can surprise me.

This semester, for example, I learned the word “laicism” from a Turkish graduate student. This vital legal concept stating that religion and state should be separate, so woven into American culture that is not even debated, remains a major debate in Europe where many flags include a Christian cross. In some countries, the term is used to justify suppression of religious symbols (veil, yarmulka, cross) while other countries use it to subsidize many religious traditions and schools. Given the recent Swiss vote to ban new mosques being built in Switzerland and my own vocabulary lesson from a student, I’m chosing laicism as my word of the year. (By the way, Dictionary.com doesn’t list the word yet!)

What’s your word of year? Why?

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