December 31, 2012

NPR | Boston Globe | Visual Thesaurus
Later this week, the American Dialect Society will select its word of the year for 2012. Possibilities include YOLO and selfie, linguist Ben Zimmer told NPR, but people may already be sick of those terms.

“I don’t think there’s any clear frontrunner this year,” Zimmer told Renee Montagne. There are two strong contenders, though. “Certainly, the term fiscal cliff has been used a lot in the last few months, and that could end up being the winner, in the same way that, for instance, bailout was the winner for the American Dialect Society four years ago.”

Zimmer described the second possibility — his “current favorite” — in his Boston Globe column:

As I survey 2012’s lexical crop, one phrase seems to encompass how we’ve dealt with the year’s messiness: double down. Borrowed from the blackjack table, this expression has been used everywhere from politics to technology to describe amping up a high-risk strategy. It’s been used negatively, as when Bill Clinton called Romney “someone who will double down on trickle-down,” and positively, as when Mark Zuckerberg announced that it’s “a great time for people to double down” on Facebook after the company’s disappointing IPO. With the American people having doubled down on Obama, it’s no surprise to hear that “Double Down” is now the working title for a book about the 2012 election by the authors of “Game Change.”

The omnipresence of double down this year speaks to American traditions of risk-taking going back to the frontier days. In theory, we might like our leaders to display bold, decisive action and an unwillingness to back down. But double down is a double-edged sword, if the gamble doesn’t pay off. That ambivalence makes double down a perfect phrase for 2012, capturing our uneasy, collective desire to defy the insecurity that surrounds us.

The words will be formally nominated on Thursday and the final choice decided early Friday evening at the American Dialect Society’s annual meeting.

More word play:

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Julie Moos ( has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
Julie Moos

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