December 15, 2007

WOTY outside the Anglosphere?

It's that Word Of The Year time of year again, reflected in a sprinkling of WOTY press releases from various organizations, WOTY stories in the world's media, and WOTY-related posts at Language Log. Last month, Ben Zimmer discussed the background of OUP's WOTY, locavore. And Arnold mentioned that the American Dialect Society is accepting nominations for its WOTY, which will be chosen amid traditional pomp and circumstance at the society's annual meeting in January.  We seem to have neglected to mention Merriam-Webster's choice of w00t, which was the source of some puzzlement elsewhere. And others have announced their WOTY choices, or will be announcing them soon.

But WOTY fever, like word rage, seems to be mainly an anglophone cultural tradition.

I can't find any WOTY action in French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese: web searches for {"mot de l'année"}, {"palabra del año"}, {"parola dell'anno"}, {"palavra do ano"} seem to turn up mostly discussion of English WOTY choices, along with a few mentions of the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache's Wort des Jahres -- which for 2007 was Klimakatastrophe, by the way.

Are there WOTY events in Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Finnish, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Navaho, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese, Yoruba, etc.? Inquiring minds want to know -- if you can report any specific WOTY sightings in other languages, please tell me.

[Marc van Oostendorp writes:

The Dutch publisher of dictionaries Van Dale, the association of language lovers Onze Taal and the newspaper De Pers together organise a Woord van het jaar election.

Van Dale has been publishing a yearly book with a selection of 'new' Dutch words of the previous year at least since 2000, and the journalist Ewoud Sanders publishes a list of such words in the prestigious newspaper NRC Handelsblad also at least since that year.

Of course, I should have known that the Dutch would be in this game. I believe that Onze Taal ("Our Language") is the world's most impressive language-related periodical aimed at a general audience -- and Marc has been Onze Taal's webmaster since 1997.

Herman Boel also wrote to tell me about the Dutch WOTY project, adding "Mind you, all ten words they have nominated are Dutch and are NOT applicable nor used in Flanders where we speak Flemish even though there are still a whole load of nitwits who believe Flemish and Dutch are the same language. "]

[Jo Lumley writes from Osaka:

I think that something quite similar to WOTY exists in here Japan, although I must admit my knowledge is far from complete. My subjective impression is that the media here are very fond of talking about newly coined words (新語 shingo) and fashionable / ubiquitous words (流行語 ryuukougo), and a some quick checking confirms the existence of at least three WOTY-type prizes.

The first is the Shingo Ryuukougo Taishou (新語・流行語大賞 Prize for New and Popular Words, see and Wikipedia, which has been awarded annually since 1984, presumably primarily as self-publicity, by the publishers of Gendai Yougo no Kiso Chishiki (現代用語の基礎知識 the Basics of Modern Terminology), which seems to be an annually published lexicon of current media terminology. This year the Governer of Miyazaki Prefecture was awarded a prize for his utterance "Dogenka sen to ikan" (とげんかせんといかん), a remark he apparently made in the prefectural assembly. The other prize went to a young golfer, Ishikawa Ryou, although in fact the word in question is not a coinage of his own, but his nickname, Hanikami Ouji ("the bashful prince"), which it seems was given to him by a news presenter (see wikipedia This is itself based on one of last year's popular coinages, Hankachi Ouji ("the handkerchief prince"), a nickname given to the popular young baseball player Saitou Yuuki.

Secondly, Asashi Shimbun's publication Chiezou (知恵蔵 - one of Gendai Yougo no Kiso Chishiki's rival publications) have annually awarded a prize called "Word of the Year" (the title is in English) since 2000. In 2006 they awarded it to Hankachi Ouji, which I mentioned above. 2007 seems as yet unannounced; see official site

Lastly, Brazil Inc. (, an internet company connected to the founder of the infamous 2-channel began awarding the Internet Word of the Year Prize (ネット流行語大賞 Net Ryuukougo Taishou) this year. They awarded first prize to Asahi Shimbun for the coinage "asahiru", a verb made from the word Asahi. It means "to fabricate or invent something, to bully perseverantly, to attack perserverantly those who disagree with you" (see This comes from accusations that Asahi Shimbun falsely reported the existence of *another* new coinage, Abe-suru (from the name of former PM Abe, meaning to abandon one's responsibilities, in this case because of Abe's resignation). As with Hanakami Ouji (above), I strongly doubt that the Asashi Shimbun coined this term itself, even though it is the named recipient of the prize.


[From Morgan Giles:

There are a couple of Japanese WOTY-esque events, and you're in luck, because this year's rankings have just come out.

Nihon Kanji Noryoku Kentei Kyokai, the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, has a kanji of the year vote, with this year's winner being 偽 ("nise"/"gi"), meaning "fake" (English article here).

It also seems that the publishing company called Jiyu Kokuminsha, who publish the Gendai Yougo no Kisochishiki (Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words), does a "buzzword of the year" (English article here; explanatory English blog post here).


[Michael Mann wrote:

There are WOTY events in German-speaking countries besides Germany itself:

In Spain, in 2006 and 2005 the readers of the newspaper "20 minutos" elected 20 words of the year -- and -- so maybe there will be 20 words for 2007 within the next days.


[Matthew Watson writes:

I'm writing in response to the post "WOTY Outside the Anglosphere?" on Language Log. My mom's side of the family are Palestinian/Lebanese, and my grandfather often talks about new words that have been approved for Arabic. If I understand right, there are a few associations--the most prominent of which is the Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo--that publish official lists of needed modern words like "cellphone." The words are generally derived from Arabic or classical roots, and are promulgated to avoid the need to borrow from other languages. It's not exactly a WOTY event, but that makes sense given the nature of Arabic, which is a formal standard language not subject to regional or democratic innovations. (The more dynamic aspects of the language are limited to the dialects.)

As Matthew indicates, this is a somewhat different thing. There are many groups who are given -- or assume -- the task of official or semi-official language planning for new vocabulary. These groups have some mix of three goals: to make standard words available for official documents such as laws and regulations; to avoid what may be confusing variation of terminology in general public discourse; and to prevent or at least regulate borrowing words from other languages, which may be seen as culturally undesirable. This process sometimes works, but sometimes it's more or less ignored, especially if the official terms are cumbersome or late in arriving. ]

[Marivic Lesho writes:

The Filipinas Institute of Translation had their Salita ng Taon (Word of the Year) contest back in August. A lot of the entries from the past couple of years have been English borrowings. This year, the winner was miskol 'missed call', followed closely by roro, which is a Filipino way of shortening "roll-on, roll-off" (referring to an inter-island transportation system).

The Salita ng Taon website (in Tagalog) is here. An article about it from the Philippine Inquirer, in English, is here. And an interesting opinion piece by anthropologist Michael Tan, about the state of English in the Philippines, is here.


[Elsebeth Flarup writes:

It seems we do have something equivalent for Danish: "Årets ord", as described here in the Danish Wikipedia.

They don't have a 2007 word yet, but list the winner and runner-ups for 2006. The winner, "ommer" is quite difficult to render briefly in English; it's shorthand for something that has to be done over, because the first attempt was botched. It's a noun created from the compound verb "gå om", which means that something has to be done again, from the beginning.

Anyway, the Danish Wikipedia entry about the WOTY in Danish traces its roots back to an influence from Germany, Austria and Switzerland rather than the anglosphere.


[From Marc Naimark:

I have never noticed a WOTY in France. There are news stories when a dictionary (one of the Roberts or Larousses) adds new words, but no well-publicized elections of WOTYs.

A Google search for "mot de l'année" provides many responses, but always to English WOTYs. There is however a festival that elects a WOTY: the Festival du mot. I'd never heard of this festival.

It's very hard to find the actual winner... I managed to find out that the winner in 2005 was "précarité", referring to a borderline
socio-economic situation, for example a temp worker, a short-term contract, seasonal worker, living in furnished lodgings (thus without renter's protection), etc.

In 2006, it was "respect".

I haven't found the 2007 WOTY from this festival.

But when you see such duds as "précarité" and "respect", you can see that WOTYs do not generate great enthusiasm here.


[Tilman Stieve:

In Germany there is, besides the "Wort des Jahres", a negative award for "Unwort des Jahres" for words that are wildly inappropriate to the matter at hand and may even impinge on human dignity. This award, which is roughly comparable to the Doublespeak Award in the US was also awarded under the auspices of the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache until 1994. In that year a dispute between the jury and the Gesellschaft over the coinage "kollektiver Freizeitpark" by then-chancellor Helmut Kohl (it ended up as number two on the list for 1993) the jury became an independent organisation. You can check out their homepage at

Here you can also find a list of the "Unwörter des Jahres" from 1991 to 2006 ("Unwörter des Jahres seit 1991"). There has not yet been one awarded for 2007, as the dateline for nominations is January 7.


Posted by Mark Liberman at December 15, 2007 09:02 AM