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Words of 2007, From 'Surge' to 'Left of Boom' to 'E-Mail Bankruptcy'

ADAM PHILLIPS: Welcome to Wordmaster. I'm Adam Phillips sitting in for Avi Arditti and Roseanne Skirble. Today we look at some of the interesting English words that popped up in 2007. My guest today is author, editor and public radio host Grant Barrett.

GRANT BARRETT: "And I am a lexicographer. That means I am somebody that compiles and edits dictionaries for a living. I specialize in new words and slang. It's the kind of stuff that most people don't know about yet but I'm there early. I hunt it down, I figure out what it means and then I put it into print."

AP: "Let's start with the serious stuff first. The war in Iraq has been foremost in many people's minds and I understand there have been some new words have come out of that. For instance, the word 'surge.'"

GB: "That's right. Surge was a term that came about, I think it was at the end of 2005. And what it meant was that the American government was going to send more troops to Iraq in order to better fight the war there.

"And the troops themselves however it call it the splurge. It's kind of their way of poking fun at it. By splurge, they mean they are throwing a lot of money and a lot of resources and a lot of technology at a problem.

AP: "What's boom? I understand boom is a word."

GB: "Well, boom specifically, of course, is an instance of an explosion. So let's say an IED -- an improvised explosive device -- is a boom. But the way the government looks at it and the Defense department looks at that [is] you're left of boom. When you talk about 'left of boom' you talk about all the things you do in order to prevent those explosions or to prepare for them. And when you talk about 'right of boom' you talk about all the things you do after an explosion happens. And that means better hospital care or better methods of tracking down the person who caused the explosions."

AP: "Why 'left' or 'right' for those meanings?"

GB: "Well, if you look at a timeline typically, what is to the left is always older and what is to the right is newer."

AP: "Of course, soldiers are always great at grisly slang. I understand there is a new word - meat tag."

GB: "Yes, meat tag. Soldiers wear dog tags around their necks. These have their identification numbers on them and their names. Now some soldiers, because they are worried about their bodies not being recognized if they should die in an explosion, are getting their information tattooed on their body. It's put on their skin with ink."

AP: "Elsewhere in the news, there has been a lot of talk about global warming, the environment and all that. I understand there is an interesting phrase that sounds sort of like global warming -- but isn't."

GB: "The phrase is global weirding. And I think that requires a little bit of explanation. By weirding we mean that the changes in temperature and changes in the environment are making animals do strange things. Like they will migrate differently or they will go to countries they never went to before. Others are dying off; others are thriving. We're getting strange storms in parts of the world that have never had that kind of weather before. Generally, it's very unusual patterns. And altogether, you can say it's weird or odd."

AP: "The bees. They may - or may not - be an example of global weirding right?"

GB: "Yes. This year, one of the terms that came about was colony collapse disorder. The beekeepers who keep bees in order to pollinate agricultural crops are coming back to the hives and finding them empty. The hives are just dying. And they are not sure why the bees are dying. It could be mites, which are very tiny little insects that inhabit the beehives. We don't know. Definitely weird."

AP: "Now, money and computers are always a favorite theme. I understand you have a couple of words along that line."

GB: "Yeah. One of the terms I really like this year is e-mail bankruptcy. And I should say that this term, unlike the others, isn't necessarily brand-new, but what it is, it came to importance this year. It became really significant."

AP: "What's the 'bankruptcy' element?"

GB: "That comes from banking. When you are in debt and you can't pay it off you can go to court and say 'I am sorry, I can't do this anymore. I can't pay my debts. I am officially declaring bankruptcy.

"And e-mail bankruptcy is when you have so much e-mail -- that is, so many digital messages -- that you can't handle them, and you give up. And you say to yourself 'I'm not even going to bother with these.' And you either delete them or you file them away and then you send a blanket response, one generic response, to everybody that ever sent you a message and says 'Look. If you didn't get a reply from me, you're never going to get a reply from me. I am declaring e-mail bankruptcy. It's done!'"

AP: "Now, on the other end of the gravity scale, we've got pap."

GB: "Pap is short for paparazzi. Paparazzi is an Italian word that means photographers of stars and famous people. And they are like gnats. They are like bugs. If you're famous, they are constantly hovering around you and taking photographs. And taking photographs like that is now called 'papping.' So there is a new verb, to pap. which is to take a photograph of a famous person."

AP: "Thank you very much, Grant, for talking to us. And I wish you a very great year full of lots of new words and great meanings!"

GB: "And global weirding to you, too!"

AP: Grant Barrett is the co-host of "A Way with Words," a language-related public radio program and the editor of "The Double-Tongued Dictionary." For WORDMASTER, I'm Adam Phillips.