Word Worry

Each year the New Oxford American Dictionary chooses a new word of the year. The word is something that symbolizes the happenings, or social climate, of a given year. For example: In 2008 the word of the year was hypermiling , which means “to attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques.” Very fitting for a year filled with soaring gas prices and instability in terms of oil imports. In 2007 the word of the year was locovore. This one has experienced immense popularity, and  is used to describe the efforts to use locally grown ingredients, take advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives. These are some amazing words to describe a collaborative consciousness raising that has occurred in our country during the last few years about serious topics such as global warming and some of our daily practices that are intrinsically wrecking our ecosystem.

So what would 2009 have in store for us? It’s been quite a year. We inaugurated the first ever African American president. We’ve continued on in an unjust and immoral war. We’ve suffered a crushing economic setback that has left record numbers of people unemployed or underemployed. And in the midst of all of this, the New Oxford American Dictionary chose for their word of the year UNFRIEND. And I quote from THEIR example “I decided to unfriend my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight.”

Readers, I thought I was going to have to pull over my car when I heard this selection! They chose what?! Now, let me back up a little. To begin with, I am a social networking enthusiast through and through. I twitter, I facebook, I blog, I do quite a bit, and spend quite some time doing it. I have made some of my best friends through social networking, and I’ve reconnected with some of the most influential people in my life. I’ve found a JOB through social networking. You are unlikely to find someone who will defend social networking as much as me. My stance on it is this. We are creatures who need community. Something is inherent in us attempting to connect, contribute, and confide in others. We want to be heard, to be understood, and to be validated. We want to share knowledge, experiences, and hardships. We don’t want to be alone.  Social networking can give us all of that, at least in small doses.  At least it has for me. As a single mother I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be the only one laughing when my kid pulls her pants down at Target. And, likewise, I don’t want to be the only one crushed by the sobs of my sick babies. Aside from that, I DO want to be able to have adult conversation when Handy Manny is playing in the background. So as you can see, I GET why we use the stuff.

All that being said, I’m heavily disturbed by the word of the year. I love linguistics, and as a good social scientist I know that language tells us so much about our society. You can learn a lot about a culture by studying how many ways they can say certain words. Or by examining what words don’t exist in various languages. So what is the choice of unfriend saying about OUR current culture?

Not only does it bother me that the subject matter is so trivial, but it also is so negative! With all the good things I think social networking can do, it also has some horrendous things as well. And the selection committee for the word of the year just highlighted one of those! Unfriending isn’t something that builds community! It isn’t a positive way to express yourself and have a voice. It’s the Jr. High effect that can quickly drain all the fun out of things like facebook. Here are the list of the other words in the running for 2009, and as you can see… it’s pretty pathetic!

2009, you’ve officially been warned. You have one month left to get your act together. Or I just might have to unfriend you! 😛

7 comments

  • Love your post and thought I’d comment on your dissatisfaction of the word chosen this year.
    I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Miss Erin McKean. She is (or at least was when I met her) the Editor-in-chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary. She spoke about having to each year not only add new words but take others out. She is a fascinating, engaging, charismatic and passionate person – especially about words. She explained how new words are really chosen by society. At the time I met her they were considering adding the word “googled” as in “I googled his name to find out more information” (I think it was added shortly after). She explained that sometimes the word isn’t even technically correct (ex. irregardless) but that her job was to add those words that were being used on a regular basis in everyday conversation. I think “unfriend” fits that category and wasn’t chosen because it is trivial or negative but chosen because it’s become a part of our vocabulary.
    I agree with you in all the wonderful things social networks have brought each of us but, heck, sometimes some people just need to be “unfriended”. 🙂
    Love your blog and you. Hope it’s OK to debate this point.
    Your friend -TS

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    • Heck yes it’s ok (and encouraged! 🙂 I love that Tony! She sounds absolutely amazing. I originally had meant to include a part where I said that I don’t actually blame the selection committee. I think it’s actually quite a fitting word for 2009, but makes me a little sad because of that. I think social networking is just like any kind of socializing and is characteristic of whoever is behind it. Some unfriending does need to occur, I just hope we can focus on the benefits more than the cons and use it to raise awareness instead of breed ignorance. 🙂

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  • Sure know how being unfriended feels like… 😉

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  • Oh, Megan….I thought I had the only kid who pulled her pants down at Target.

    Which is why I couldn’t unfriend you.

    But I did unfriend, once, and I thought of it when I read your blog. A friend from high school, who I’d reconnected with on MS, posted a bulletin that I felt was both sexist and racist. After some discussion, during which I heard all the excuses (I was just kidding, can’t you take a joke, you’re white so why do you even care if I make a joke at the expense of POC, etc) I unfriended. I’m just past the age where I can politely ignore that stuff, so I took the only route I felt I could. My only consolation is that maybe it made him think.

    But maybe I’m rationalizing because the whole episode makes me feel horrible to this day.

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    • Oh Jenna. I can’t think of a better reason TO unfriend someone. I think if someone is willing to listen, and learn from others opinions about remarks they made then that’s one thing, but if it’s gotten to the point where they are clearly not concerned about their offending behavior… let them go!

      And yes, sure thing Evan bared it all in the middle of Target. In her defense, Jeran told her to “pull her pants down around her boots” *meaning to pull them down from being stuck on the top of her boots*. She interpreted it quite literally.

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    • I think that’s a great reason to unfriend someone. Just because you knew them before doesn’t mean you still need to. I’ve noticed that almost everyone I went to high school with I no longer even have a remote desire to talk to. I haven’t in the past 10+ years, so why start now?

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