On the Word of the Year

As you likely know, at the end of each year the authoritative folks of Oxford English Dictionary select a “word of the year”—a word that resonated in the culture by growing use, significance, and baggage as it moved from one context to another, a word, perhaps, whose meanings were felt— celebrated or even feared—by many. The OED’s shortlist of nominations for this year’s word included: bae, budtender, contactless, and slacktivism.

And the Winner Is… (and since this is late January 2015, you’ve likely already heard…)

According to the OED, the winner of the 2014 Word of the Year is…Vape.

Huh? That was my response, too.

Vape. As in an abbreviation for vapour or vaporize: “to inhale and exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette” (Oxford Dictionaries). Apparently the word gained widespread usage over the last few years, reaching a peak in April 2014, and is responsible for numerous coinages: vape lounge, vape shop, vape pen, vape juice.

As someone who likes words—pays attention to them, respects them, cares about them, uses too many of them—I was disappointed and even a little annoyed with OED’s choice. Vape…really? Maybe it’s because of its association with the unpleasant habit of cigarette-smoking (offered the former smoker), or that cigarettes are more notoriously a 20th century phenomenon despite this high-tech iteration. So last century.

So in my disconnect with last year’s word of the year, and the oppressive OED, I began to think about not THE word of the year but MY word of the year. What word did I connect most with? What word best reflects 2014 for me? I had a hard time lighting on just one. And then, in the spirit of resolution-making at the turn of the New Year, I thought: why wait for some impersonal entity to bestow the word of the year? Why not intend one myself, and live it, so that by the year’s end I can authoritatively claim MY word of the year?

During a recent January pre-semester First-Year Writing Faculty Development Workshop, I invited colleagues to offer nominations for their word of the year for 2015. The image illustrates our list:

 word

Source

(A follow-up writing activity: write the story of your word. Why that word? I’d like to read those stories.)

Of vs. For

The following week, colleague and workshop participant, Sharon Thiese, kindly sent me an article by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich similarly discussing the value of pre-selecting a word for the year. Schmich features one of her readers, Mae, who annually chooses a word as a substitute for New Year’s resolutions, “to help her steer through the time ahead.” As Schmich notes: “Unlike a long list of resolutions…Mae’s challenge of creating a word for the year invites a person to focus… [it] calls for discipline, a consideration of your true desires.” Focus. True Desires. Two aspirations worth the discipline, I’d say.

And as Schmich clarifies in a follow-up column, while New Year’s resolutions are often overly ambitious and too-quickly broken, the “word-for-the-year is a suggestion, an attitude, a loose aspiration. When you don’t live up to it, you keep trying.” Some of the words offered by readers: Change. Acceptance. Completion. Grow. Courage. Patience. Perseverance. Joyful effort. Forgive. Smile. Tolerance. Empathy. Adapt. Listen. Generosity. Be.

As a twist in the choosing, Schmich offers a brief period for trying on one’s new word: “you have through the month of January to exchange it.” I took her up on that and exchanged my initial wise word for another, one that might more brightly light my way over the next 12 months. Next December, when the OED announces its word of the year, I hope to have enjoyed living my own word for the year.

What word do you choose?

Sheila M. Kennedy, Ph.D., Lewis University

Leave a comment below with your response–or, better yet, email cwenger@shepherd.edu to respond with a post of your own!

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