Thursday, January 13, 2005

Behind the Word of the Year

The American Dialect Society recently released its Word of the Year, which is actually six words: red state, blue state, purple state.

And at Slate, Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the OED and a member of the society, gives a peek behind the scenes of the selection process in different categories. There's some fascinating reading here (well, at least to this word dork): why the suffix -based lost out to carb-friendly in the Most Unnecessary category, why most newspapers didn't print santorum as the winner of the Most Outrageous category.

There's some food for thought for copy editors, too. Consider:
The suffix -based, as in faith-based or reality-based, was widely disliked. "It's its own opposite," said Bill Kretzschmar, editor of the Linguistic Atlas of America. "If it's reality-based, it's not real."
And what about carb-friendly?
"It's meaningless," said phonetician David "Not the Rock Star" Bowie, "unless you're saying you're a friend of carbs by not eating them."


At 12:19 AM, January 14, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

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At 12:29 AM, January 14, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

Unless I’m missing something, their criticism of “-based” is off-base. Oil-based paint, for instance, isn’t supposed to be 100 percent oil. If it were, we would just call it “oil.” It’s paint that has oil as its base. Hence the term.

The real problem in “faith-based,” as has been discussed at TCE and elsewhere, is the “faith” part.

At 7:58 PM, January 14, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

I don't disagree with that, Peter.

The story doesn't say, but perhaps that's why "carb-friendly" beat "-based"?

At 8:56 AM, January 15, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

Could be, Nicole. "Carb-friendly" certainly deserved the greater scorn.

At 9:47 AM, January 16, 2005, Blogger Mike Marlett said...

The problem of "carb-friendly" is entirely one of copy editing vs. marketing. Marketing will, unless you want to fund the campaign, win. The substitute, "low-carb," connotes the much-hated phrase "low-fat." And, as we all know, low-fat anything just sucks. I'm sure that if "fat-friendly" sounded better than low-fat, marketers everywhere would change their labels.

This is one that news publications can change every chance they get and still get beat down 10-to-1 in the public eye.


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