Pop Culture

The 'Dracula Sneeze' And Other Words Of The Year

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The American Dialect Society's New Words Committee meets to nominate, vote and announce Words Of The Year. The annual list highlights new words, usages and linguistic trends. Categories include Word (Or Phrase) Of The Year, Most Creative Word and Most Outrageous Word. Host Liane Hansen speaks to society chairman Grant Barrett, host of the independent public radio program A Way With Words, about this year's winners.


The 121-year-old American Dialect Society voted on its 2009 Word of the Year. And the winner is: Tweet. Google was voted as the word of the decade. Grant Barrett is the chair of the society's new word committee. He's with us on the line from Baltimore, where the society met this past week. Hi, Grant.

Mr. GRANT BARRETT (Chair, American Dialect Society): Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: Okay. Tweet - noun or verb?

Mr. BARRETT: Both as a matter of fact. The noun is a short message sent via the Twitter.com service and the verb is the act of doing that.

HANSEN: How many votes did it get?

Mr. BARRETT: Sixty-nine.

HANSEN: And why is it the word of 2009, do you think?

Mr. BARRETT: A lot of people felt that this was the year of Twitter. Some people were even speaking of it as becoming so core to the Internet that it's like a public utility. It just becomes invisible and people build their Web sites and their applications on top of it.

HANSEN: Okay. Google - word of the decade?

Mr. BARRETT: Yeah, that was a surprise to me. I thought it might be something like texting or blog, but people decided that Google - and the argument from the floor from one of our members was that a lot of people blog, millions of people blog, but everybody googles, young and old. It's so generic that people go to Yahoo and google. So, it's google with a lower-case G.

HANSEN: How many votes did it get?

Mr. BARRETT: Seventy-four.

HANSEN: Okay. Were there any words not related to digital tech even in the running?

Mr. BARRETT: Yes, there were as a matter of fact. For the word of the decade, green was on the list, but I'm sorry to say that it only got one vote. And this is green the adjective, meaning related to ecological or environmental conservation or protection.

HANSEN: How many people voted?

Mr. BARRETT: Well, you know, people kind of come in and out of the room and it was packed. People were standing in the hallway. There were probably about 130 people there.

HANSEN: You also voted on the most creative word of 2009.

Mr. BARRETT: We did, and that's kind of a fun category as you might expect, because it's a chance to kind of prop up some words that are interesting but maybe not widely used. And the winner is one of those. It's Dracula Sneeze. This is in order not to spread the spray of your flu, you sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than into your hand. And I've seen health officials in California use this in press conferences.

HANSEN: The word Dracula Sneeze.

Mr. BARRETT: Dracula sneeze, as in I want to suck your blood, that guy.

HANSEN: Okay. Gotcha. And most outrageous?

Mr. BARRETT: Most outrageous is death panel. A lot of people felt that this was outrageous because it was propaganda.

HANSEN: Any words kind of standing out in the first two weeks of 2010?

Mr. BARRETT: As a matter of fact, there is a word. If you use Twitter, you're probably familiar with hash tags. And hash tags are these little devices by which you write a message and then you put this little code there so other people can search for that code and find other messages on the same subject. Well, S-N-O-M-G is starting to be used by people as a hash tag for snow oh my god. So, all the snowstorms. People write some comment about a lot of snow is headed their way, and they'll put the hash tag S-N-O-M-G.

HANSEN: Grant Barrett is the chair of the new word committee for the American Dialect Society. He's also the host of the independent public radio show A Way with Words. He joined us by phone from Baltimore. Thanks a lot, Grant.

Mr. BARRETT: Thank you, Liane.

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