ARUN RATH, HOST:
Next month, linguists will gather for the annual meeting of the American Dialect Society and vote on the 2014 word of the year. Linguist Ben Zimmer will be presiding over that conference. He is looking over a short list of notable words. The first term, die-in, a form of protest that we saw recently against police killings, actually dates back to activist movements decades ago.
BEN ZIMMER: The first die-in actually was staged in Boston back in 1970 for Earth Day. It obviously has roots in the civil rights movement in the tradition of the sit-in. So people go back and find the words that are useful for them.
RATH: Here's one that I hadn't heard of before the list, even though it seems like it's really useful. That's platisher.
ZIMMER: A useful word, if not the prettiest word. It combines the words platform and publisher. And this was coined by Jonathan Glick this year in a piece for Re/code. And it describes some new online outlets - things like Medium or also Gawker or BuzzFeed where they're online publishers, but they also serve as platforms for creating content. And so this word, platisher, was coined. I don't really know if this is going to be a successful term. The senior editor of Medium, Evan Hansen, went so far as to call it the worst new word of all time.
RATH: One of my favorites, if not the favorite, on the list is a term I first came across in a College Humor video clip this summer, I think. It's called Columbusing.
(SOUNDBITE OF COLLEGE HUMOR VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: People have been here before you, so you didn't discover it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oh, yeah. Sorry, I didn't discover it. I Columbused did.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You want?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I Columbused it. I discovered it for white people.
ZIMMER: So Columbusing is a word that can be used to describe the re-appropriation or perhaps misappropriation of African-American culture - for instance, various slang terms that get appropriated by a white mainstream audience. We see that happening quite a lot in language and culture. And so this is a clever and rather sarcastic term for that phenomenon.
RATH: As I mentioned, we'll be getting an official list from the American Dialect Society later in January. But if this were not a democratic process, if you were the emperor of the American Dialect Society, what word would you declare the word of the year?
ZIMMER: The word that I have been leaning toward is another word that's been around for a while, and that's vortex. Vortex got all sorts of new meanings this year, primarily with the polar vortex entering our weather lexicon. But that became such a prominent term that you could just say vortex, and people would know what you mean. In fact, I noticed that L.L. Bean was advertising vortex-proof gear. Jeb Bush, before he sort of jumped into the 2016 presidential race, was talking about how he was worried about getting sucked into the vortex, referring to presidential politics. So people are finding all sorts of new uses, I think, for a word that's pretty old.
RATH: And no clothing would protect you from a political vortex, I think.
ZIMMER: That's true. That's true.
RATH: Ben Zimmer is the executive director of vocabulary.com and The Visual Thesaurus. He's also the language columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Ben, thanks. That was fun.
ZIMMER: Thanks so much.
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