Word of the Year, Unfriend, has "Lex-Appeal"

By Frank Heinz
|  Tuesday, Nov 17, 2009  |  Updated 11:00 AM CDT
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Word of the Year, Unfriend, has "Lex-Appeal"

Facebook has now officially had an impact on the lexicon.

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Being a bit of a logophile, I always love this time of year when the New Oxford American Dictionary reveals their Word of the Year. The word is oft-debated for it's worthiness, though only time can really tell if the selection was notable or not -- which might be the case with the 2008 winner.

Those on Facebook will certainly recognize the 2009 winner, the word "unfriend."

To unfriend (verb) someone is to remove them as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace. Ex: I had to unfriend Susie after she stole my lunch from the refrigerator at work.

The "Word of the Year is debated and chosen, with the selection made to reflect the ethos of the year and its lasting potential as a word of cultural significance and use," said the Oxford University Press in a news release Monday. 

Unfriend certainly does all that and is already in widespread use in the cultural lexicon.

"It has both currency and potential longevity," notes Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford's US dictionary program. "In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year. Most 'un-' prefixed words are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant), and there are certainly some familiar 'un-' verbs (uncap, unpack), but 'unfriend' is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of 'friend' that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!). Unfriend has real lex-appeal."

Last year's Word of the Year, "hypermiling," hasn't really taken off yet. A "hypermiler" is someone who attempts to maximize gas mileage in their car by making adjustments to the vehicle such as removing drag-heavy roof racks, adding spoilers, monitoring tire pressure, etc.  However, 2007's Word of the Year, Locavore, has successfully made it into common usage as someone who prefers to eat food that was locally grown.

2009 Word of the Year finalists:

Technology
    * hashtag - a # [hash] sign added to a word or phrase that enables Twitter users to search for tweets (postings on the Twitter site) that contain similarly tagged items and view thematic sets
    * intexticated - distracted because texting on a cellphone while driving a vehicle
    * netbook - a small, very portable laptop computer with limited memory
    * paywall - a way of blocking access to a part of a website which is only available to paying subscribers
    * sexting - the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by cellphone

Economy
    * freemium - a business model in which some basic services are provided for free, with the aim of enticing users to pay for additional, premium features or content
    * funemployed - taking advantage of one's newly unemployed status to have fun or pursue other interests
    * zombie bank - a financial institution whose liabilities are greater than its assets, but which continues to operate because of government support

Politics and Current Affairs
    * Ardi -(Ardipithecus ramidus) oldest known hominid, discovered in Ethiopia during the 1990s and announced to the public in 2009
    * birther - a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama's US birth certificate
    * choice mom - a person who chooses to be a single mother
    * death panel - a theoretical body that determines which patients deserve to live, when care is rationed
    * teabagger - a person who protests President Obama's tax policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations known as "Tea Party" protests (in allusion to the Boston Tea Party of 1773

Environment
    * brown state - a US state that does not have strict environmental regulations
    * green state - a US state that has strict environmental regulations
    * ecotown - a town built and run on eco-friendly principles

Novelty Words
    * deleb - a dead celebrity
    * tramp stamp - a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman

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