New Words of 2005 and Beyond Steve Inskeep talks to Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary, about the new words of 2005. Among them: podcasting, life-hacking, chess-boxing.

New Words of 2005 and Beyond

New Words of 2005 and Beyond

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Steve Inskeep talks to Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary, about the new words of 2005. Among them: podcasting, life-hacking, chess-boxing.


OK, this just in: I've been handed a list of words that gained currency during the year 2005--podcasting; life hacking, which means making your life more efficient; chess boxing, which is an actual sport, a competition, where you box your opponent and then use your remaining brain cells to play chess. Some lexicographers are already looking ahead, trying to anticipate the expressions we will not be able to live without next year in 2006. One of those lexicographers is Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary, who's with us.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. ERIN McKEAN (Editor, Oxford American Dictionary): Thank you.

INSKEEP: So you've got a list of words that you have been hearing, and you're looking forward to hearing more in 2006. The first one on this list that I see here is court-stripping. What is that?

Ms. McKEAN: Court-stripping is when legislatures try to remove powers from courts, usually federal but often state, so that the courts can't rule on laws that they've passed. This one was found this year in one of the Texas papers.

INSKEEP: A Texas newspaper came up with court-stripping.

Ms. McKEAN: Oh, no. The Texas newspaper quoted somebody using court-stripping...

INSKEEP: So who...

Ms. McKEAN: ...which is even better. We don't know who was being quoted. It was put in quotes, so as `This is a term you may not know about.'

INSKEEP: Another one you've got on your list is truthiness.

Ms. McKEAN: Truthiness, we know where it came from. Well, at least we know where we heard it first; Stephen Colbert, in his new satirical news show--"The Colbert Report, I think he calls it. So truthiness is kind of the idea that the actual facts don't matter, or it's something that you wish so much were true that you act as if it were true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. McKEAN: I believe sometimes that is called metaphorically true.

INSKEEP: Wishful thinkingly true.

Ms. McKEAN: Yes. It's a very complicated word for wishful thinking. Another one of these great words from television; "The Simpsons" is a great disseminator of words. One of the classic "Simpsons" words is cromulent, which was used in the context--somebody didn't like the word enbiggins, which the show also made up, and then somebody else said to the first person who didn't like enbiggins, `What are you talking about? That's a perfectly cromulent word.'


Ms. McKEAN: So of course, cromulent hasn't really made dictionaries yet. It's kind of bubbling along at a low boil. I think eventually it's going...

INSKEEP: Does it have a meaning?

Ms. McKEAN: Cromulent means perfectly acceptable, at least from context.

INSKEEP: What are some other phrases and words that you're keeping track of?

Ms. McKEAN: One word is tablescape, and a tablescape is everything you put on top of a table, the napkins, the tablecloth, the china, the centerpiece. It's a very, I think, efficient word, because one, it sounds like a word that's been around forever, although the first citation that I have is from 1991.

INSKEEP: Are there some words that are going away that were popular in 2005, that you're going to miss?

Ms. McKEAN: One that I think has had its day and will probably never happen again, which is a shame, is popesquatting. Some guy guessed that Pope Benedict XVI was going to choose the name `Pope Benedict XVI,' and registered the domain name. So it's a combination of pope and cybersquatting, which is when you register a domain name in the hopes that somebody will want it enough to buy it from you.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Ms. McKEAN: So--and another word that I hope takes off next year, although I'm not sure that we will have too many more examples, is the word pinosaur. They found an ancient tree in Australia and it's a kind of pine, so they took pine, and the -saur of dinosaur, and they said pinosaur, although what that really means is kind of like `tree lizard.' But people have disassociated the suffix -saur from its meaning of lizard, and it just means anything kind of old.

INSKEEP: Could it also mean one of those plastic containers of household cleaner that's been in your cabinet for a while and you don't know how long it's been there or whether it's any good?

Ms. McKEAN: That's genius. It's a wonderful metaphorical extension and it will help keep this word alive.

INSKEEP: Well, Erin McKean, thank you very much for your truthiness.

Ms. McKEAN: You're very welcome. I hope it's been cromulent.

INSKEEP: It has been entirely cromulent, and I'm glad you've gotten all these words out on the tablescape.

Ms. McKEAN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Erin McKean, the editor of the Oxford American Dictionary.

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