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A review of 2005 in twelve words

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New words of the year
A review of 2005 in twelve words
by Kerry Maxwell





















Writing in 1929, the linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir famously made the claim that:

'We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.'

In a theory centred around what theorists refer to as linguistic determinism, Sapir was claiming that there exists an intimate link between the language we use and our experience of the world. The idea that language itself can determine how we experience life may seem a little far-fetched, but continued research for MED Magazine and Word of the Week during 2005 shows that the inverse relationship is definitely true: there is no doubt that the events, technologies and experiences of today's world shape our use of the language and put new words in our mouths. Even if the language we use does not always determine our experience of life, our experience of life undoubtedly determines the language we use.

As another year drew to a close, let's again take a lexical snapshot of it by looking at some of the new words gaining currency in the English language as a direct result of the events and typical preoccupations of life in 2005.


On 26th December 2004, a natural disaster killing over 270, 000 people in Asia forced a little-known word into the vocabulary of millions. In the month following the tragedy caused by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean, the word tsunami dominated headlines across the world. A tsunami is a series of waves generated when water in a lake or the sea is rapidly displaced on a massive scale. Its effects can range from unnoticeable, to devastating. Originating from the Japanese words tsu ('harbour') and nami ('wave') the term tsunami had previously been confined to the vocabulary of technical experts. In the wake of the disaster however, it catapulted into general awareness, now even used figuratively to refer to a sudden influx or deluge of any kind.

'I did, you did, everybody did. Giving money to a tsunami appeal has become the shared experience of 2005.'
The Observer, 2
3rd January 2005)

'A hot new social-bookmarking site is deluging web servers all over the net with a tsunami of traffic …'
(Wired News, 17th November 2005)



February 14th is Valentine's Day, all hearts, kisses, love and romance. But in twenty-first century society, the boundaries of emotional and physical relationships are radically different to those a generation ago. This has spawned a range of new expressions reflecting changing attitudes and conventions, such as bromance, a blend of the words brother and romance used to describe a non-sexual relationship between two men, and marriage lite, a relationship which is similar to marriage but does not have the same legal implications. An increasingly popular type of social gathering is, believe it or not, called a cuddle party, where participants cuddle and touch each other in a non-sexual way to create feelings of well-being. Cuddle party goers have the right to refuse contact, and must ask the permission of fellow participants before touching them. The event is supervised by a cuddle caddy, who is designated to monitor behaviour …

'If Reid Mihalko is right, nearly all of us are desperate for someone, anyone, even someone we've just met, to hold us, rub our feet, stroke our hair. … our needs fulfilled, we might venture back into the real world, boasting that we'd been to a cuddle party, the grandest social experiment since the 1970s …'
(The Seattle Times, 5th September 2004)



It was during this month of the year that the British Beer & Pub Association announced plans to launch a new third-of-a-pint glass in attempt to win over women drinkers, only 14% of whom drink beer in pubs, as opposed to 36% who drink wine. Believing that women are put off by traditional half and full pints, both in terms of quantity and the weight of the glasses, the Association promoted the serving of beer in more attractive, long-stemmed glasses which hold a third of a pint of beer. These new drinking vessels would affectionately be known as thirds:

'We all know the problem with beer and women – love the taste, but those big glasses are just way too heavy for our feeble, womanly arms. Thankfully, the British Beer & Pub Association has announced plans to launch a new, elegant "third of a pint" glass in an effort to coax us off the chardonnay and malibu and onto ale. This week, a spokesman explained the benefits, claiming that women would be able to drink their "thirds" without "spilling it all over their shoes".'
(The Guardian, 10th March 2005)



The beginning of the new financial year, and if you're managing to balance the budget at work but the financial situation at home looks depressing, why not indulge in a spot of rate-tarting? This is the practice of continually switching credit card providers in order to get the lowest interest rates available. Those who engage in the practice, dubbed rate tarts by disapproving credit card companies, cleverly exploit the introductory 0% interest rates used by companies as a means of enticing new customers. As well as managing cash flow, particularly enterprising rate tarts have used the practice as a way of making money, borrowing extra cash within an interest-free period and putting it temporarily into a tax-free savings account. It is now estimated that rate-tarting costs the credit card industry over one billion pounds a year.

'"The art of rate tarting is to always keep an eye on what's on offer," one practitioner explained. "Make sure you do switch cards … Never get hung up on loyalty, and don't be lazy, as they will both end up costing you money."'
(The Guardian, 13th July 2005)



On Thursday 5th May 2005 there was a general election in the United Kingdom, resulting in a third term of office for Prime Minister Tony Blair. Political campaigning is often a breeding ground for new terminology, and the UK election this year was no exception. One of the most enduring examples was the phrase dog-whistle politics, used in reference to the opposition Conservative Party's election campaign, and introduced into the UK from Australian English by political strategist Lynton Crosby. A dog-whistle is used to create a special high-pitched sound which only attracts the attention of a particular dog rather than all the dogs around. The analogy then is the presentation of a political message in such a way that it is only understood by potential supporters rather than voters in general. An advantage of the dog-whistle approach to campaigning is that it avoids the possibility of offending those voters who wouldn't find a political message particularly appealing, and is therefore a good mechanism for dealing with controversial topics. The term dog-whistler was consequently used as a reference to those politicians who attempted to conceal their true feelings on sensitive issues such as immigration or asylum.

'Thatcher's was true dog-whistle politics, a subtle signal rather than the main message.'
(The Observer, 24th April 2005)



Coverage of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships this month ensured that the term Henmania, zealous interest and support for the British tennis player Tim Henman, still appeared as a seasonal feature of British English. But for how much longer we might wonder, since alas 2005 would not be Timbledon. Timbledon was a tongue-in-cheek, (and most likely ephemeral) reference coined this year to the championships when Henman is playing, inspired by yet another explosion of international interest in seeing whether he would get through to the final. This was also the year of the Tim-ometer, a clever play on Tim and barometer coined by the BBC to describe a gauge of Tim's performance and attitude at various stages of the competition. Unfortunately the Tim-ometer reading was so 'lukewarm' that Henman Hill, the name given to the area of the club where fans gather to watch their hero on a giant TV screen, was aptly re-named Murray Field in the aftermath of the promising performance of the up-and-coming Scottish player Andy Murray.

'Henmania is about to hit again at Timbledon …Tim Henman's semi-finals effort at the French Open has brought a healthy amount of money to say he will become the first Brit to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936 …'
(Sydney Morning Herald, 11th June 2005)



On Thursday 7th July 2005, the day after London had been chosen to host the 2012 Olympics and the first full day of the G8 summit, a series of four bomb attacks struck London's public transport system during the morning rush hour. The deadliest bombing in London since the Second World War, within just a few hours this horrific event was being referred to by the world's media as 7/7. The expression 7/7 was of course based on the description 9/11, a universal reference to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th 2001. The date/month ambiguity in 7/7 meant that there was no confusion in countries such as Canada, Australia and Britain, where 9/11 conventionally means November 9th rather than September 11th. However when another spate of bombings occurred in London later the same month, they were referred to by the world's media as both 21/7 and 7/21, reflecting date conventions on both sides of the Atlantic.

'From emptied subway systems to deserted parliaments and shopping malls, the countries of central and south-eastern Europe have been edgy and anxious since 7/7 …'
(The Guardian, 28th July 2005)

'Extradited suspect charged with 21/7 explosives offences …'
(The Times, 23rd September 2005)

'London Police Arrest Man Over 7/21 Attack …'
(ABC News, 27th September 2005)



August, the traditional month of holidays. Whether it's lying by a pool on the Costa del Sol, fishing on a Scottish loch or walking the Swiss mountains, we all choose different places to 'get away from it all'. The range of typical holiday destinations has expanded further this year with a newly identified trend in tourism: set-jetting. In 2005, it seems that one in four of us plan a holiday in a particular location specifically because it was the setting for a book, film or TV programme that we very much enjoyed. For instance, a trip to Scotland specifically to visit Rosslyn Chapel might not have been an obvious choice a decade ago, but with the immense success of the novel The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, this has become a popular tourist destination, and seems likely to be invaded by even more set-jetters with the release of the film version in 2006. 2005 saw four cartoon lemurs providing the inspiration for set-jetters of all ages to visit the far-flung island of Madagascar. With return tickets at £800 each from the UK, British parents might be more likely to persuade their little ones that they'd like a Harry Potter experience by visiting Yorkshire and the attractions of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland …

'Tourist locations are seeing up to a 30 per cent surge in bookings from "set-jetters", who like to visit places depicted in films, it was revealed yesterday …'
(The Scotsman, 9th August 2005)



The summer holidays are over in the United Kingdom and it's back to school, or possibly, not back to school. Over the last twenty years there has been an increasing trend among parents dissatisfied with the state education system to go for the option of homeschooling, in other words, educating children at home and in the local community rather than in a school institution. A term that has gained currency in 2005 however is unschooling, which refers to a specific type of homeschooling in which no set curriculum is used. Homeschooling usually involves tackling the expected curriculum in a home environment with parents often adopting the conventional role and techniques of a teacher, and so is basically 'school at home'. By contrast, unschooling is 'not school'. The emphasis is very much on the learning process itself, with an education driven by the natural instincts and goals of the child doing the learning, often referred to as the unschooler. The idea is that children learn by experience, with textbooks shifting to real world perspectives. For instance an unschooler might learn geometry by making a quilt, or algebra by painting a room – now that sounds like much more fun!

'As an unschooler, I did only what I felt like doing. Supposedly I'd learn what I needed for the job that was right for me; I'd train and study without realizing it … Now it all makes sense: unschooling, my life, where I'm headed.'
(Home Educator's Family Times, November/December 2005)



Bad news this month for unruly nine-year-olds. Amid growing concern about pre-teenage crime and anti-social behaviour, in October 2005 the UK government announced plans to introduce the Basbo, also referred to as the baby asbo. The Asbo (an acronym for Anti-social behaviour order) was launched by the British government in April 1999 in an attempt to protect the public from named individuals who cause disturbance through drunkenness, vandalism and other anti-social behaviour. The Basbo would likewise prevent a child from engaging in specified anti-social behaviour, such as the use of abusive language, and could involve banning a troublesome child from entering certain areas. Aimed at children under ten, a Basbo is intended to be a lighter punishment than a full Asbo.

'A boy of nine held a carving knife to the face of terrified Ashley Baldwin, five, and threatened to kill him … Police traced the thug but he is too young to be prosecuted. The attack came as it emerged Tony Blair wants to create Basbos – baby anti-social behaviour orders – to curb Britain's youngest yobs.'
(The Mirror, 10th October 2005)



Podcasting (creating online, downloadable audio programmes) now becomes vodcasting. Two or three weeks earlier, Apple had announced the release of the video-enabled i-Pod, a fifth generation machine capable of playing downloadable video material on a 16 bit miniature screen. Earlier in the year aficionados of the emerging technology of podcasting had predicted that it would revolutionize the world of radio, enabling listeners with i-Pods or MP3 players to download broadcasts on subjects that they were interested in and listen to them when they wanted. Energized by the release of i-Pod video, vodcasting seems in turn set to revolutionize the world of TV and video, with viewers now potentially able to download and watch the programmes of their choice. Though the vod- element of the term acts as a clever blend of video and i-Pod, it also stands for the expression Video on Demand. In addition to podcasts and podcasters, we can now talk about vodcasts and vodcasters. Technology never stands still.

'Major news organizations such as ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and Fox, as well as local television and radio network affiliates, are podcasting and vodcasting …'
(Muncie Star Press, 28th November 2005)



December at last, and if you fancy a little fresh air and exhilaration after all those mince pies, why not persuade the whole family to take up one of the latest Winter extreme sports: snowrafting. Snowrafting involves climbing into a large rubber dinghy with several other people, and being propelled down a steep descent of hard-packed snow, travelling at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. Apparently the experience only lasts a few long, terrifying seconds!

If you're more the stay-at-home type and would prefer to expend electrical rather than physical energy, maybe you can give others a little seasonal excitement this year by being a houseblinger. Houseblingers are people who spend substantial amounts of time and money decorating their homes with a vast number of Christmas lights, to the delight of small children all around. You probably know of a houseblinger, or might even have a housebling or two (an ordinary residental house masquerading as a Christmas light extravaganza) in your street. And before you say 'Bah, humbug!' or moan about energy consumption, check they're not houseblinging for a worthwhile charity.

'Greetings houseblingers and their admirers! The new houseblinging season is now upon us and we know that many of you have already been preparing furiously for this winter's display …'
(, 29th November 2005)


For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.