Say what? A guide to words worth using -- and losing -- in 2011

  • Article by: ALYSSA FORD
  • Star Tribune
  • January 5, 2011 - 6:34 AM

It's a jargon-filled jungle out there. Just as soon as you master "cankles" and "e-commerce," up pop "cheapuccinos" and "workweek creep." And no wonder: Minneapolis linguist Anatoly Liberman, a professor at the University of Minnesota, says word invention is at an all-time high, with hundreds of new or blended words conceived every day. "Most of these new words are linguistically stillborn," said Liberman, "but it's still very interesting to watch many of these neologisms come into being and then capture a part of the public's imagination."

Interesting, that is, until you find yourself completely lost in your own language.

If you don't know your "slactivists" from your "shways," our quick guide can help. We've recruited some prize-winning poets, authors and other word-worthy people from the Twin Cities to tell us which words they're going to be using -- and which words they're going to be losing -- in 2011:

Use it: Toates for totally. As in, "Do you want to go to the mall this afternoon?" "Toates!"

Why: Because the "totally" craze was quite funny, and "toates" takes it to a further silly degree.


Lose it: LOL.

Why: It was so much more satisfying when LOL meant lots of love.

Says who: Fiona McCrae, director and publisher at Graywolf Press.


Use it: Bunga-bunga for party. As in, "I went to Silvio Berlusconi's bunga-bunga in Milan last weekend. It was wild!"

Why: Because "party" is just so bland.


Lose it: Data dump.

Why: It does a nice job of summing up the glut of documents we face, but the scatological reference is just too much.

Says who: Eric Dregni, author and magazine writer.


Use it: Gliberal for glib liberals. As in, "Those gliberals think they know everything!"

Why: It's clever, it's short, and it paints a vivid portrait in just a single word.


Lose it: Utilize. As in, "I'm going to utilize this hammer."

Why: It's a technical word that semi-educated people use to fluff themselves up. I'm certain the same person who likes to "utilize" also likes to "reside" and "commence."

Says who: Anatoly Liberman.


Use it: Shway for cool.

Why: It's a refreshing alternative to "cool," plus it's a reference from "Batman Beyond." So that makes it extra-shway.


Lose it: Gate as a suffix. As in Watergate, crashergate, ACORNgate and Kanyegate.

Why: It's unoriginal. And for a lot of readers it doesn't have any historical meaning. They weren't alive during Watergate.

Says who: Chad Corrie, author and writing instructor.


Use it: Technostalgic. (Technology plus nostalgic.) As in, "After getting gunned down on an Xbox 360, Jeff felt technostalgic for his old Atari 2600."

Why: It flows off the tongue and gives you a warm fuzzy feeling which you don't get from, say, techno music or technology.


Lose it: Chillax. (Chill plus relax.)

Why: Because it makes me think of a tall, icy, laxative-based beverage.

Says who: Jeff Kamin, comedian and host of Books and Bars, an irreverent book club.


Use it: Vilipend to replace vilify. As in, "Don't vilipend me! I was only trying to help!"

Why: It's got that wonderful, zesty v-sound, and it plays off its "villain" roots so nicely.


Lose it: Momoir. (A mom's memoir.)

Why: It's pejorative to women writers, and it's actually kind of hard to say!

Says who: Kate Hopper, parenting writer.


Use it: Slacktivist. (Slacker-plus-activist.) As in, "This week, a bunch of slacktivists changed their profile pictures to support children's rights."

Why: It captures something very fundamental about how we live. Tweeting about an issue is fine, but it's not the same as actually getting involved.


Lose it: Bromance. (Bro plus romance.) As in, "I love that new bromance starring Seth Rogan."

Why: Two men liking one another and having a meaningful, nonromantic relationship is pretty nice. We don't need a word that mocks it.

Says who: Guante, rapper and poetry slam champ.


Use it: Frenemy. (Friend plus enemy.) As in, "I gave my frenemy a lifetime supply of Ben and Jerry's."

Why: It has all the marks of a good neologism: It fills a void in the language, it's instantly

understood and it's clever.


Lose it: Mentee. As, "He's my mentor, so I guess I'm his mentee."

Why: It's ugly, and you can't "ment" someone. Plus, it sounds like the singular of Mentos.

Says who: Lightsey Darst, poet and writing instructor.


Use it: Yclept (pronounced ee-clept), to replace "called" or "named," as in, "What's this thingy yclept?"

Why: We have a lot of fine English words that are rarely or never used any more.


Lose it: Awesome.

Why: It used to mean inspiring awe or terror, and now means cool. It's sad when powerful words get stripped of meaning.

Says who: Kathleen Jesme, poet, finalist for the 2007 national Poets' Prize.


Use it: Amazeballs for amazing. As in, "you look amazeballs tonight."

Why: It's so satisfying to say. It just kind of walks through your entire mouth.


Lose it: Jeggings.

Why: It's a combination of jeans and leggings, so it's an appalling product, and it's an equally appalling word. All around bad.

Says who: Scott Muskin, author of "The Annunciations of Hank Meyerson."


Alyssa Ford • 612-673-4116

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