January 10, 2004

And the last shall also be first

The American Dialect Society recently selected Metrosexual as its Word of the year. Hardly more than a week earlier, the same word topped Lake Superior State University's yearly "List of Banished Words" (or to give its longer name, the "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness"), which came out on Dec. 31, 2003. The LSSU list has been widely cited: {Lake Superior metrosexual} gets more than a thousand google hits, including many journalistic sites (since the AP newswire picked it up) and many weblogs. I saw the LSSU list (via blogdex) when it came out, but I had forgotten that metrosexual was at the top.

Here's a free clue suggestion for the nice folks at ADS. Networked digital communication is an important, even central part of the life of a growing number of American teens and young adults -- this article in today's NYT magazine cites a survey to the effect that

"...there are expected to be 10 million blogs by the end of 2004. In the news media, the blog explosion has been portrayed as a transformation of the industry, a thousand minipundits blooming. But the vast majority of bloggers are teens and young adults. Ninety percent of those with blogs are between 13 and 29 years old; a full 51 percent are between 13 and 19 ..."

This is having a significant effect on the social networks by means of which new vocabulary (and other kinds of language change) spread, and the effect is going to keep on growing for a while. Maybe you should get out in more ...

[Update: Let me try to say this again in a way that may be less likely to offend. The ADS community is a national treasure, a deep reservoir of linguistic scholarship. Some of them (like Grant Barrett) are among the most net-savvy people I've met recently, while others have very different kinds of skills and knowledge. Many of them are interested in questions that have nothing to do with the ways in which English may be changing now.

However, networked digital communication is becoming part of the fabric of adolescent social life in the U.S. (and around the world). This will have significant consequences for what happens to the English language over the next few decades, and it also gives us an unprecedented opportunity to study language variation and change across social networks. Therefore, attention should be paid not only by those who care about the developing facts of English, but also by those who care about about cultural evolution more generally. And as a minor footnote, those who take part in a "words of the year" exercise, even a whimsical one, really should get out into the net a bit more.

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 10, 2004 10:22 AM