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What is your Word of the Century so far?


By Kirsty OUP-UK

language-report-2007.jpgSusie Dent, author of OUP’s annual Language Report, has told us that the word of the year for 2007 is “footprint”, but can any one word sum up the 21st century so far?

We are conducting a poll over at the AskOxford website, and would love you to take part. You can either choose from one of the selection that Susie has put together from her five years of monitoring the language for her books, or if you don’t agree with any of them, you can nominate your own.

To get you thinking, here are a few of the words you can choose from:

Axis of evil
This term, first used by George W. Bush in his State of the Union address in January 2002, came to be shorthand in his administration’s rhetoric about the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction from an ‘axis’ or group of countries which included Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

Although coined in the late nineties by the US rapper B.G (Baby Gangsta), ‘bling’ is for many the word of the early noughties, denoting a celebrity-obsessed culture intent on being as flashy as those who were idolized.

The word ‘chav’ is a near-perfect example of the speed at which today’s new words can spread. Very few of us will have heard of it until 2004/5 and it still remains at the forefront of an ‘us and them’ mentality which has characterized the opening decade of the century.

The word of the year in 2006, Catherine Tate’s catchphrase of ‘bovvered’ has been repeated by the media as a neat shorthand for Britain’s ASBO-deserving couldn’t-care-less adolescents.

9/11 has become the immediate reference point for the terrorist attacks against America in 2001. Their repercussions have resonated throughout the years since, and many might consider them to be the catalyst for a chain of political and social events which have dominated the decade.

Sars and bird flu
SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) gripped the public imagination in 2004 as the latest threat to public health. However, it is H5N1 or bird flu that is ringing alarm bells today.

sex up
Meaning to make something more appetizing, dramatic, or indeed sexy. This phrase came into greater currency thanks to a BBC report by the journalist Andrew Gilligan that British intelligence documents on Iraq had been ‘sexed up’ in order to justify war. The phrase ‘sexing up’ was soon applied to any number of contexts, from one’s body and bedroom to further political documents where spin was suspected.

The dramatic embrace of environmental endeavour has been accompanied by an array of new words and terms. The frequency with which ‘footprint’ now evokes an environmental context can be measured by the Oxford English Corpus, with ‘carbon’, ‘ecological’ and ‘reduce’ among its most frequent companions.

Few could have predicted the value of the bowser, supplying uncontaminated water to thousands of flood-affected Britons in the summer of 2007.

Recent Comments

  1. Parker Posey

    1. Never heard of “bowser” before, unless you’re talking about the bad guy in the Super Mario Bros. video games.

    2. I would go with “bling.” I just got my rolee all iced out, and it’s blinging like none other, ya heard!

  2. Mario Panighetti

    What, no “truthiness”?

  3. Pamela Benjamin

    Isn’t Bowser the arch nemesis of Super Mario?

  4. The Sanity Inspector

    My word of the century so far is “blogosphere”, coined by Bill Quick of The Daily Pundit.

  5. Dimitri Ponirakis

    My favourite new word is the verb to ‘Brick’, which is as best as I understand when an iphone is rendered useless by an Apple software update after someone has installed third party software on it. I’m sure that this word will quickly spread across the Atlantic as Brits can now get their hands on an iphone.

  6. […] in October I told you about our poll to discover which word could sum up the 21st century so far. Well, I’m pleased to report that […]

  7. Derrick Schneider


    A slight nit: Bowser isn’t Super Mario’s enemy. He is Mario’s enemy in the Super Mario franchise.

    The verb “to brick” predates the iPhone. I have heard it used for a number of vaguely rectangular electronic device (hence the term: the mysteriously non-working device is now just a brick).

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