Beyond Words - Language Blog

The Most Popular Words of the Decade

Unfriend
n. To remove a contact from your network on a social networking site,
such as Facebook.

The verdict is in: the New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2009 Word of the Year is “unfriend.” This transitive verb – as social networking site users and non-users alike might know – means to remove a “friend” from an online profile on a site such as Facebook or MySpace. The content of these websites, along with Twitter and the advent of text messages, dominated the list of potential candidates for the Word of the Year: There was “intexticated,” or being so infatuated with sending text messages as to type away while engaged in tasks that require the user’s full attention (e.g. operating a vehicle, attending classes, giving birth). Also up for debate was “sexting,” or sending explicit messages and pictures by cell phone. Ultimately, “unfriend” won out, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary’s senior lexicographer Christine Lindberg, due to its “currency and potential longevity.”

As difficult as it may be to crown one term with “Word of the Year,” the Global Language Monitor has engaged in an even more ambitious linguistic task – to find the most popular words and phrases of the decade. Each year over the course of the 2000s, the Global Language Monitor, operating out of Houston, Texas, has singled out words, phrases, and names that have incorporated themselves into the American lexicon. Certain themes run through these lists: climate change, sustainability, unrest in the Middle East, and the internet thread themselves through multiple years.

In fact, “global warming” was chosen as the most prominent term of our century, followed by “9/11,” “Obama,” and “bailout.” “Global warming” has been used to describe the overall rise in temperatures since 1983, over a century after the “greenhouse effect” was popularized as a term to explain the planet’s rising surface temperature. As for language relating to crisis in the Middle East, the Global Language Monitor’s most popular words and phrases include “War on Terror” (2001), “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (2003), “bin Laden” (2003), and “Taliban.” Finally, national concerns deemed worthy of the Word of the Year have been “Ponzi Scheme” (2009), “same-sex marriage” (2003), “Katrina” (2004), and “iPhone” (2007). While the words chosen for this list vary drastically in overall weight and import, it may be fair to say that their popularity and usage in American English makes them quite relevant.

Graphic courtesy of Media Slap Blog