Linguist, lexicographer, writer, editor, broadcaster

All about the WOTY

I’m definitely all about WOTY (as we call “words of the year”) right now.

Oct. 31. Editors at Webster’s New World Collegiate nominate “grass station” as their word of the year. Two months early and a barely used word, most people scoff at the choice.

Nov. 12. Editors at Oxford University Press nominate “locavore” as their word of the year. A passable choice but at two years old it’s too new for some commentators, not old enough for others. I’ve been trying to avoid talking about it since 2006.

Nov. 16. I begin talking with editors for the New York Times Week in Review section about the shape of this year’s words-of-the-year list.

Nov. 26. A first draft of the NYT article is finished and submitted.

Dec. 9. WOTY fatigue has already set in for some language observers. I’m only just beginning.

Dec. 11. Editors at Merriam-Webster nominate “w00t” as their word of the year. Mob rule results in the word of the year for 1997 being nominated by accident, or so it seems.

Dec. 12. I post a history of w00t that triples web site traffic for a day. I record a WOTY interview for the Voice of America for their English-learning program Wordmaster.

Dec. 13. Record a WOTY interview for Weekend America. It’s to run after all the WOTY announcements have taken place, so my internal prognosticator is running on full tilt. Flashing lights everywhere. I’m either going to sound like I knew what I was talking about or like I was hit by a car and woke up in 1973. Global Language Monitor, a dubious outfit made mostly of one man, his bluster, and a fax machine, issues its annual press release, this year topped by “hybrid.” Apparently his algorithm is busted but he just heard some six-year-old Prius jokes that were very convincing.

Dec. 19. I collect and post the first round of early nominations for the American Dialect Society’s word of the year vote.

Dec. 20. I have a very pleasant hour-long chat with Julie Kredens, host of State of Affairs on WFPL in Louisville, about WOTY.

Dec. 21. The VOA Wordmaster interview airs.

Dec. 22. Martha Barnette and I do an episode about WOTY on the language-related public radio show we co-host, A Way with Words.

Dec. 23. My fourth annual words-of-the-year piece is published in the New York Times. I post the second round of early words-of-the-year nominations for the American Dialect Society.

Dec. 24. I am scheduled to talk with Joy Cardin on her show on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Ideas Network, broadcast statewide, at 7 a.m. EST/6 a.m. CST.

Jan. 1, 2008. Collecting begins for next year’s list.

Jan. 4. American Dialect Society’s 18th annual words-of-the-year vote is held in Chicago. This is the WOTY event of the year. ADS members prefer to wait until the year has finished. Even that last day counts!

Jan. 5. Interview airs on Weekend America. More interviews tend to happen around this time.

Interviews are a lot of fun but I’m under no illusion: they’re not about me. They’re about the words. That reporters and radio hosts want to talk about them doesn’t make me important. I still clean my own toilet and I’m long since past the point of caring about my name in the paper or hearing myself on the radio. My goal is to do good shows, to help make great articles and, above all, to enjoy myself as I talk about why language change is interesting and inevitable. I love my work and it’s fantastic that these wonderful people let me trod about on their airspace and in their news pages as I explain it.

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Grant Barrett