Chicago — In its 18th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted “subprime” as the Word of the Year. As ADS defines it, subprime is an adjective used to describe a risky or less-than-ideal loan, mortgage or investment. Subprime was also winner of a brand-new 2007 category for real estate words, a category which reflects the preoccupation of the press and public for the past year with a deepening mortgage crisis.
Presiding at the Jan. 4 voting session were ADS Executive Secretary Allan Metcalf of McMurray College and Professor Wayne Glowka, Dean of Arts and Humanities of Reinhardt College, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Wayne edits the column “Among the New Words” in the society’s quarterly journal American Speech.
“When you have investment companies losing billions of dollars over something like bundled subprime loans, then you have to consider whether it’s important,” Professor Glowka said. “You probably also want to think about paying off that third mortgage.”
Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item”—not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year, in the manner of Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
The vote is the longest-running such vote anywhere, the only one not tied to commercial interests, and the word-of-the-year event up to which all others lead. It is fully informed by the members’ expertise in the study of words, but it is far from a solemn occasion. Members in the 118-year-old organization include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, authors, editors, professors, university students, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing and entertaining.
In a companion vote, sibling organization the American Name Society voted “Betray Us” as Name of the Year for 2007 in its fourth annual contest. Other notable recognitions included the Most Useful “green,” designating environmental concern; the Most Creative word in Googelganger, which describes a person who put his or her name into Google’s search engine; and “Happy Kwanhanamas” was deemed Most Unnecessary, as it is intended as a “happy holiday” greeting that covers religious holidays Kwanza, Hanukkah and Christmas.