Published January 09, 2013
For better or worse, "hashtag" edged out "marriage equality" in voting for the word of the year for 2012. Hashtag refers to a word or phrase preceded by a hash symbol (#) used on Twitter to mark a topic or make a commentary and has become a 21st-century successor to "boldface," while marriage equality refers to legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Both handily outdistanced their subprime (which happens to be the 2007 word of the year) contenders: "YOLO," "fiscal cliff," "Gangnam style" and "47 percent."
Every year since 1990, members of the 124-year-old American Dialect Society have met at their annual meeting to vote on the word or expression that most reflects the ideas, events and themes that have occupied the English-speaking world, especially North America, during the past year.
The vote by the organization's membership, which includes linguists, lexicographers, historians, writers, editors and others, is mean to demonstrate that language change is normal, ongoing and entertaining.
"This was the year when hashtag became a ubiquitous phenomenon in online talk," said Ben Zimmer, chair of the new words committee of the American Dialect Society and a language columnist for the Boston Globe. "In the Twittersphere and elsewhere, hashtags have created instant social trends, spreading bite-sized viral messages on topics ranging from politics to pop culture."
Among the runners-up, YOLO, an acronym for "You only live once," was voted most useful, but curiously was voted one of the least likely to succeed. Gangnam style, the trendy style of Seoul's Gangnam district as used in an eponymous Korean pop song, joined YOLO on the list.
"Fiscal cliff," the threat of spending cuts and tax increases that was put on hold by last-minute budget negotiations in Washington, and "marriage equality" were among those phrases voted most likely to succeed.
Among those phrases nominated for the dubious distinction of being the most outrageous was "Dunlop effect," which refers to the sight of a stomach protruding over ill-fitting pants ("belly done lop over the belt").
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