On January 2, 1928, Time Magazine featured its first “Man of the Year,” aviator Charles Lindbergh. It was a brilliant solution to the year-end dilemma presented by a traditionally slow news week. As a result, what is now called (in modern parlance) the “Person” of the Year, has been an eagerly anticipated feature of Time Magazine ever since. This was, in fact, the reason I stayed glued to CNN on the evening of December 16. It was a Saturday night . . . a night when anything can happen and no one ordinarily wants to stay home. So why did I? I wanted to find out whether for 2006, by some wild fluke, the person of the year just might be me.
And it was! Imagine my surprise. I should mention there was just the tiniest unexpected letdown though. Once you’ve made the cover of Time as Person of the Year (as I now have), there’s not really all that much more to anticipate in that quarter. I mean—obviously it’s not going to be me again next year, so where’s the incentive to hang on to the edge of my seat anymore?
I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way either. In fact, my message to Time is, “move over, my friend, there’s a more interesting year-end prospect in town. Quite frankly, you have been plutoed!” (At this point, the blank expression on Time’s face clues me in to the fact that perhaps it’s having trouble understanding my dialect.) “Plutoed,” I repeat. “Surely you know what it means to be plutoed? And if not–well, then! That’s precisely the reason you have been plutoed.”
But plutoed by whom? Plutoed by what? Well, every January from now on, instead of tuning to CNN to watch the unveiling of Time’s Person of the Year; we will all be glued (via the Infobahn) to http colon, double backslash, www dot, americandialect dot org, in order to discover the current recipient of the honour of . . . “The Word of the Year.”
Just in case you’re wondering, the 2006 “Word of the Year” title (by the power of the American Dialect Society), has been awarded to the new expression “to pluto, or to be plutoed.” According to the ADS, ‘to pluto,’ is “to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto no longer met its definition of a planet.” (See: Dogged! Pluto Stripped of Planetary Status, August 2006).
The ADS (it should be noted) is no fly-by-night organization. “Founded in 1889,” says their website, “the American Dialect Society is dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, and of other languages, or dialects of other languages, influencing it or influenced by it. Our members include academics and amateurs, professionals and dilettantes, teachers and writers.” (More than likely, the dilettantes bit is just to make the Society seem more personable, since the other members listed evoke images of 9th grade English teachers).
At this point it’s important to acknowledge that most of the time, the ADS concentrates on serious language issues. However, like Time Magazine, each December the Society likes to reminisce about those of the past year’s events that could be considered significant in relation to their particular line of work. Also like Time Magazine, the ADS has an effective process for collecting nominations, discussing the merits of each, and counting votes. Distinctly unlike Time Magazine, however, the American Dialect Society has two other important assets. An actual working knowledge of how to relate to the average American, and an understanding of the nation’s sense of humour.
Witness the accuracy of the ADS in identifying past winners:
Most Likely to Succeed for 2002: “Blog: from “weblog,” a website of personal events, comments, and links.”
Word of the Year for 2000: “Chad: a small scrap of paper punched from a voting card.”
Most likely to Succeed and Most Useful for 1999: “dot-com: a company operating on the web.”
Most Likely to Succeed for 1997: “DVD: for Digital Versatile Disk; an optical disk expected to replace CDs.”
Most Likely to Succeed for 1992: “snail mail: mail that is physically delivered as opposed to e-mail”
Most Likely to Succeed for 1991: “rollerblade: to skate with rollers in a single row.”
But where the Society’s understanding of the nation’s sense of humor surfaces is in what might be considered the “lesser” categories of new additions to the American dialect:
Most Creative word of 2005: “Whale-tail: the appearance of thong or g-string underwear above the waistband.”
Most Euphemistic of 2004: “Badly-sourced: false.” (This narrowly edged out “Wardrobe malfunction: unanticipated exposure of bodily parts.”)
Most Euphemistic of 2000: “Courtesy Call: an uninvited call from a telemarketer”
Most Euphemistic of 1998: “Senior Moment: momentary lapse of memory due to age.”
Most Original of 1998: “multislacking:” (the ADS defines it as “playing at the computer when one should be working,” although I think this is currently more usefully defined as, “ignoring several high-priority tasks at once.”)
So, to wrap up my message to Time Magazine, the next time a I get a call from them asking if I’d like a subscription, I’m going to say this:
“Maybe I’m having a senior moment, but your assumption that I would welcome your courtesy call while I’m in the middle of some important multislacking was badly-sourced. Next time don’t call, send me an ad by snail mail so at least I can deep-six it in the circular file, pronto. If you try any more phone-spamming I might come down with sudden jihad syndrome, or possibly go postal–and that would just be so low-rent.”