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Steelhammer: Webster welcomes new words

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Thanks to technology and popular culture, new words enter the language each year, while other words go the way of bell-bottom jeans and daily newspapers and gradually fade from the scene.

An official source of acceptance for new words is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, which recently released its list of 25 words to be added to the 2012 edition of the popular reference book.

Oprah Winfrey can be credited/blamed for the first word in this year's alphabetically arranged list. Her signature phrase "aha moment," meaning a flash of sudden insight, is now an officially recognized noun. An Oprah-sanctioned job description, "life coach," was also anointed as a noun.

Other new words making the list include "bucket list," inspired by the movie of the same name, and "earworm," which is not the corn-boring pest, but the popular expression for a song that gets stuck in one's head.

 The popular new beverage categories "energy drink" and "craft beer" made the Merriam-Webster cut, as did "gastropub," a bar where gourmet food can be washed down with craft beer. In other new food and beverage words, diners who occasionally lapse from their vegetarian diets and eat meat or fish can now be correctly referred to as "flexitarians."

President Obama's stimulus program had something to do with "shovel-ready" qualifying as an adjective to describe a ready-to-build construction project. Other new words with roots in the current political-economic climate include a new definition for "toxic" as the description of an asset that has lost so much value it can't be sold, and a new definition for "underwater," to describe a mortgage loan for which more is owed than the property is worth.

"Man cave," is now an officially recognized word for a room, often in a basement, in an adult male's home used to house hobbies or take part in leisure activities.

A new word of interest to those of us in the Biscuit Belt is "obesogenic," an adjective used to describe something that promotes excessive weight gain.

Perhaps the most controversial word on this year's list is "f-bomb," a popular euphemism for the a-bomb of American curse words.  It's listed right after "e-reader," the officially accepted word for the handheld electronic device you may someday soon be holding to read this column.

Before I retire to my man cave to dig into a non-flexitarian platter of biscuits and gravy and see whether today's NFL match-ups will make my bucket list of sporting highlights, let's go over a few words headed for the recycling bin.

Each year since 1976, Michigan's Lake Superior State University has released a "Banished Words List," based on nominations sent in from picky, disgruntled English speakers from around the world.

At the top of the 2012 Banished Words List is "amazing," which has apparently become the new "awesome," another amazingly overworked word, which made the LSSU's 2007 list.

"The word which once aptly described the process of birth is now used to describe such trivial things as toast, or the color of a shirt," sniffed a Canadian who was one of hundreds nominating "amazing" for banishment.

Among other words making the "Banished" list was "blowback," a word commonly used by corporate types to mean "reaction," and "baby bump" the phrase that has made pregnancy a celebrity fashion accessory. Among those nominating "baby bump" for the scrap heap of words was a guy from Poca, who suggested reverting to "the old tried-and-true 'pregnant.' I never heard anyone complain about that description."

I would nominate "push-back," which has become an annoyingly over-used synonym for resistance, and "double-down," a perfectly good blackjack term that is being worn to a nub by political pundits trying to think of an alternative word for "escalate."

To prove that one person's passion is another's poison, the 2012 Banished Words List included one entry, "man cave," that also got 2012 seal of approval from the folks at Merriam-Webster.

After being "overused by television home design and home buying shows" and then making the rounds of sitcoms and commercials, 'man cave' now has to be endured during interactions with real estate people, neighbors and co-workers," sniffed one "Banished" nominator. "Not every man wants a recliner the size of a 1941 Packard with a cooler in each arm and a holster for the remote."

I don't know. That chair sounds pretty amazing to me.


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