I'm Avi Arditti, and this week on WORDMASTER: we check in with Grant
Barrett at the American Dialect Society for the results of its 19th
annual vote for words of the year, in this case for 2008.
BARRETT: "The Word of the Year was bailout -- b-a-i-l-o-u-t. Bailout.
And I should say that it doesn't have to be a new word. It has to be
newly prominent. And certainly the usage of this term has spiked since
the federal government has been called in to rescue banks and
automobile manufacturers and a variety of companies with a bailout.
Because that's what a bailout is, it's a form of rescue.
beat in a runoff -- that is, we have one round of voting with all the
candidates -- bailout beat 'Barack Obama.' Now that's a name, but we
were judging it as what we call a combining form. That is, Barack and
Obama as separate words have been used to coin oodles and gobs and just
loads of other words. It's a very productive combining form, as we
would say in linguistics."
AA: "So, for example."
BARRETT: "Oh, like Obamamania, just to describe the way that some
people are crazy about the man. Obamination, used by people who aren't
crazy about the man as a play on the word abomination,
a-b-o-m-i-n-a-t-i-o-n, which is something negative."
AA: "Right. So you've got the Obamanation, would be a good thing, right, to supporters."
GRANT BARRETT: "That's right."
AA: "And Obamination would be -- "
BARRETT: "They sound, in the mouths of Americans, they sound almost
exactly alike. You have to carefully articulate yourself and say it
very slowly in order for the difference to be heard. But most people,
you can't tell the difference except if you're reading it in print."
AA: But the name of the next president, who will take office on Tuesday, was the winner in the category of Most Useful.
BARRETT: "Well, I don't know how it couldn't be the winner there, given
there were so many words coined off of his name that Slate magazine
made a book out of them, a little dictionary. And I fully except the
next four years to be Obamalicious as people keep coining more and more
words off of his name.
"You know, the thing about Obama, the
last name in particular, is that it's
vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel. It's really easy to say and it
lends itself to form blends. That is where you take two words and you
mix them together. Particularly if their syllable, like the last
syllable of Obama, is the same as the first syllable of another word,
it's very easy to blend them."
AA: "I've got to ask you, one
more category here -- the Most Creative. The term was, I see it's --
I'm not even sure how to [pronounce it] -- 'recombobulation area.'"
GRANT BARRETT: "Oh, isn't it delightful? But you immediately understood what it means, right?"
AA: "Well, once I read the definition. Tell me, what is a recombobulation area?"
BARRETT: "Well, I guess we should explain, because I know it's not
quite like this all around the world, but in American airports there's
a big security procedure before you can even get anywhere near an
airplane. It even involves taking off your shoes, sometimes taking off
your belt, having your suitcase X-rayed. Maybe even they'll pass a
handheld metal detector over your body. It's very serious -- "
AA: "This has mostly been, or largely, since the attacks in two thousand one."
BARRETT: "That's right, mostly in the last seven to eight years. And so
when you finish passing through that process, usually your coat is off,
your shoes are off, maybe your belt in is in your hand, you're looking
for your cell phone. All this stuff is coming through the X-ray machine
bit by bit in plastic tubs where you've placed it.
trying to put your phone back in your pocket and your belt back on your
pants and your shoes back on your feet and your coat back on your
shoulders. And you're trying to pull your bags at the same time. And
maybe even you've got a child who you're trying to help or somebody
else. You're discombobulated, and discombobulated is a fancy word
saying that you're disorganized and out of sorts and you don't have
your act together.
"And so somebody at Mitchell International
Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, decided that they needed just a little
bit of humor. So above the chairs that they've placed there where you
can kind of get yourself back in order, they've put a big sign that
says 'Recombulation Area.' And it's a word that didn't really exist
before they used it. And every time people see that, they grin a little
bit. It eases you, it makes you feel just a little better. It actually
works remarkably well, because it's a place where you don't expect a
joke. I'd love to see recombobulation area become the standard term for
this at airports across the country."
AA: Grant Barrett is vice
president of the American Dialect Society and co-host of the public
radio show "A Way With Words." And that's WORDMASTER for this week.
We'll post a link to all the winning words at our Web site,
voanews.com/wordmaster. I'm Avi Arditti.