Tracking 2010's Most-Used Words, Names And Phrases This year will be remembered as the year of the "spillcam," the vuvuzela and Jersey Shore. That's according to the Global Language Monitor, which has released its list of the most-used words and phrases of 2010. Founder Paul Payack runs down the lists, from "refudiate" to Lady Gaga.
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Tracking 2010's Most-Used Words, Names And Phrases

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Tracking 2010's Most-Used Words, Names And Phrases

Tracking 2010's Most-Used Words, Names And Phrases

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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When Future generations look back on the events of 2010, will they wonder if the anger and rage over the spillcam led to the presidential shellacking? Or will they say, huh?

Whether you don't know what some of those buzzwords mean or whether you're tired of hearing them over and over, new words do make their way into our language every year. The Global Language Monitor tracks them and just released its list of top words, phrases and names of the year. In a moment, we'll hear more and how those lists were compiled.

So tell us what's your top word, name or phrase of 2010? Call us at 800-989-8255. Or email us: And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now from member station KUT in Austin is Paul Payack. He is the president and chief information analyst of the Global Language Monitor. Welcome.

Mr. PAUL PAYACK (President, The Global Language Monitor): Good to see you.

LUDDEN: So spillcam, number one word. Not BP, not oil spill, but spillcam, all one word. How did that - how did you figure that out?

Mr. PAYACK: Well, what we do is basically track the English language globally. We track billions of Web pages, billions of blogs, tens of thousands of social media sites, and then 75,000 electronic and print media, meaning most of the newspapers and television stations in the world that have databases. What we do is we observe them all year long, we see which words are making the biggest news and how they change in time, we measure them from the end of last year, 12-31-09 and then we measure them again in after three months, and then six months, and then right before we release the survey. And these lists are in different categories, and it shows you what have made the biggest changes over time and what have had the biggest impact.

LUDDEN: That sounds incredibly hard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: Social media, plenty of (unintelligible)...

Mr. PAYACK: It is. You just to have keep - you have to just keep doing it. And but, you know, these things kind of self-organize. It's interesting. It's you know, global English is a very Democratic language, and new things kind of bubble up. We don't have an academie francaise that tells us what's correct and what's not correct and what words we can use. So when we you see a word like vuvuzela, which is kind of invent if you're writing a science fiction novel, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAYACK: I mean, it's like - it's quite a word. And then you just go out and do a Google search on it, and there's like millions of these things in every language around the planet. I mean, a word like that, I guess there was a need for a word like that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAYACK: describe this one oddly colored horn that made its impact at the World Cup. And...

LUDDEN: It's better to say the word than to hear that annoying noise.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAYACK: Yes. It's very, very - and we don't - we could link to the sound, but we figured let's save everybody on it. But spillcam, I mean, it's like you have to test it. Is it BP spillcam? Is it spillcam? What's used the most frequently? What are people using on blogs, which is close - a social media which is close to normal conversation as you can get, right? And what's actually being sped - what's actually being said?

And it turns out that it was spillcam, which we happen to think was like the world's worse PR decision when, you know, some PR, some - a hack said, you know, we can always show him that spillcam. We do have a camera down there, right? We can show it live how we straightened it up, right? And so that also ranks as one of the worst PR decisions in history.

LUDDEN: All right. Give us some more on the list. What are a few other words in it?

Mr. PAYACK: Okay. I mean, it's like - of course, refudiate, right? You know, that's going to be a big hit as soon as it comes out. But the interesting thing is when Sarah Palin used this word, which is in conflation of refute and repudiate, is that, you know, that language is large enough, you know, with millions of words and we say a million, but there's millions of English words, and that if you go back and search the literature you always find the word and people immediately found two or three references to repudiate from literature 30, 40 years ago. So that's pretty interesting.

LUDDEN: Oh, really?

Mr. PAYACK: Yes. And that...

LUDDEN: So she did not coin it?

Mr. PAYACK: She did not coin it, but she certainly popularized that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: Isn't that interesting?

Mr. PAYACK: And then the narrative. The narrative caught us as being very interesting because the narrative seams in politics. You know, in academic studies, people have been studying narratives and all for years, then we all remember the narrative of Frederick Douglass, et cetera, et cetera. But what happens with the narrative in politics, this has been going on for probably four or five election cycles, but it's peaking now is that people talk about the narrative, they don't talk about platforms anymore. And it's almost like comparing the words...

LUDDEN: Oh, a party is narrative. Right. The political party is narrative.

Mr. PAYACK: Right. It's like - does this fit into narrative? It's like, wait, wait, what about a platform? What about, like, ideas? What about, you know, these truths we hold to be self-evident? No, it's the narrative.

LUDDEN: Is narrative a fancy word for spin?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAYACK: It's getting that way. It's kind of interesting.

LUDDEN: All right. Let me just interrupt here briefly to say you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Now, when you put this list together, were these words the kind of went beyond the U.S. It seems very U.S. centric and politically centric, because of the midterms, I guess, but were, you know, was the Times of India talking about the spillcam and refudiate?

Mr. PAYACK: Yes. Yes, we - it's a global language. Its every place there's an English database we could track, we track. And we will actually go into different sections. We can go into different type of media like the electronic media and newspapers, actually, you know, just focus in on the subcontinent or China, whatever, and you'll see the same things happening. It's like the U.S., for better or for worse, is leading the growth of global English right now. And our words show up very readily every place you go.

We just saw that one of our top words from a few years ago was brokeback. And we just saw one of our friends to China call this...

LUDDEN: From the movie?

Mr. PAYACK: From the movie "Brokeback," okay? And it seemed to be, at the time, like a non-offensive way to say gay, and there were all kind of spoofs on the movie. Remember the New Yorker had a cover, cartoons, et cetera - anyhow. But we - one of our friends in Beijing just told us that they have a new urban dictionary, which is like college dictionary. And it actually has brokeback in ideograms now...


Mr. PAYACK: they have made it to a Chinese word.

LUDDEN: Meaning homosexual or gay?

Mr. PAYACK: Meaning gay, right. So I mean, it's...

LUDDEN: So these things do - because I have to say, I'm looking at the list and, you know, snowmaggeddon, I just don't see that having a long shelf life.

Mr. PAYACK: That probably doesn't. That's probably doesn't.


Mr. PAYACK: That's just - that's probably a word that comes and goes. Some of these things have shelf lives, some of them don't, but most of them will have a spot in history like Obamamania, right?

LUDDEN: Right.

Mr. PAYACK: When we talked about that a few years ago, people said, but what if he doesn't win? Well, if he doesn't win or if he does win, it just means the definition will change. But we know if youre studying the election of '08, you're going to have to encounter Obamamania even if you look at that a thousand years from now.

LUDDEN: Okay. I got to say I was stumped by number 10. I guess I just missed this. What is simplexity?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAYACK: We always try to get a couple jargon words or soon-to-be-jargon words, okay. And this just hit the threshold that it was popular enough that we could use it. And basically, it's a paradox. You try to simple the complex, okay, in order to make it easier to understand, the process of which makes it even more complex, so nobody understands anything.

LUDDEN: But where was that used widely that I missed?

Mr. PAYACK: Now, it's actually supposed to not do that, but that's what happens.

LUDDEN: Where was that used widely that I missed?

Mr. PAYACK: Well, it's in technology.

LUDDEN: Oh, oh, of course. I see.

Mr. PAYACK: Okay. Of course, everything, you know, they bubble over from technology. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don't.

LUDDEN: You also do top people names list, and Hu Jintao is topping it this year.

Mr. PAYACK: Yeah, that was interesting because out of the top 10 stories of the - with the top stories themselves of the first decade of the 21st century, China, the rise of China, was the number one story. You know, beating, you know, 9/11 and Iraq war and all the tsunamis, all sorts of things. And so it's kind of fitting that President Hu, or as we call him the paramount leader, is actually in the news that much right now.

LUDDEN: All right.

Mr. PAYACK: He tries not to be. He tries to be just one of a bunch of leaders...

LUDDEN: And still, there he is. All right.

Mr. PAYACK: But the interesting thing we think is that number two is iPad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAYACK: That actually tells you how successful that is.

LUDDEN: Okay. Speaking of - let's get a quick call-in. Carla is in South Kona -is that Hawaii?

CARLA (Caller): Yes, ma'am.

LUDDEN: Go right ahead.

CARLA: Yes. I was very - I'm hearing half the radio, so I better turn it down, turn it off. Yes, it's making really hard.

LUDDEN: Always (unintelligible) turn the radio down there, and tell us what you're...

CARLA: Okay. So sustainability. The word sustainability. I've heard it from people who - in all walks of life, and I don't care what - whether they're Republican, Democrat, independent, whether they're - they have an agenda of some kind - the word sustainability has been really tossed around.

LUDDEN: Okay. Thank - let's see - thanks for the call, Carla. How did that rate?

Mr. PAYACK: Actually, that rated as the number one word of 2006.

LUDDEN: Oh, so (unintelligible)

Mr. PAYACK: And so it's been deeply embedded into the language.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, Paul Payack as the president and chief information analyst of the Global Language Monitor. He'll be listening to what you say, coming up. He joined us from member station KUT in Austin. You can see the full list of top words, terms and names at our website,, click TALK OF THE NATION.

Thank you so much, Paul Payack.

Mr. PAYACK: Great to be here. Bye-bye.

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