Group Deems ‘#blacklivesmatter’ Word of the Year

At a Hilton hotel in Portland, Oregon, a murmation of academics and card-carrying intelligentsia decided the word of the year for 2014 is (cue drumroll) — #blacklivesmatter.

Sure, that’s not a word and it’s not in the dictionary, but the professional professors, etymological amateurs and even dilettantes (or so the American Dialect Society says on its webpage) made a Twitter hashtag its overall winner for the first time ever.

“While #blacklivesmatter may not fit the traditional definition of a word, it demonstrates how powerfully a hashtag can convey a succinct social message,” said Ben Zimmer, chairman of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, executive editor of and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

“Language scholars are paying attention to the innovative linguistic force of hashtags, and #blacklivesmatter was certainly a forceful example of this in 2014,” he said.

The Society defines #blacklivesmatter as: “Hashtag used as protest over blacks killed at the hands of police (esp. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in Staten Island).” The “word” won 196 votes at the Hilton gathering.

No other entry was even close, certainly not “bae: a sweetheart or romantic partner,” which had just three votes. “Columbusing: cultural appropriation, especially the act of a white person claiming to discover things already known to minority cultures,” pulled in 11 votes while “Manspreading: of a man, to sit with one’s legs wide on public transit in a way that blocks other seats,” got just five votes.

“In a companion vote, sibling organization the American Name Society voted ‘Ferguson’ as Name of the Year for 2014 in its tenth annual name-of-the-year contest,” the Society wrote.

The Society also picked a slew of other words in different categories, such as “Budtender: a person who specializes in serving marijuana to consumers, especially in legal dispensaries”; “Misogynoir: misogyny directed toward black women”; “Second-amendment: v. to kill (someone) with a gun, used ironically by gun control supporters”; and “Sugar-dating: pay-to-play relationship between an older, wealthier person (sugar daddy/momma) and a younger partner.”

But the Society does take itself too seriously, nor do the linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars of which it is constituted. “In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead, they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining.”

Read the whole story here.


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