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January 13, 2002 - Words of 2001 - 2002-01-30

AA: I'm Avi Arditti, with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER -- our annual look at American English through the eyes and ears of some close observers.

RS: Members of the American Dialect Society met in San Francisco this month and chose their "word of the year" for two-thousand-one. But actually, as executive secretary Allan Metcalf explains, it's not really a word.


METCALF: "It's the expression '9-11,' and we included in that the varieties of expression '9-11,' '9-1-1,' and even the date September 11, referring to all the terrorist events that took place on that day."

SKIRBLE: "And was there much discussion about that, or did that have a unanimous vote?"

METCALF: "It wasn't unanimous, but in voting for word of the year, it got about 30 votes out of a total of 50, and the next closest got only 10 votes."

ARDITTI: "And what was that?"

METCALF: "That was the word 'burqa.' Someone proposed that burqa, although it's not a new word, is new to us and furthermore it has all kinds of associations with not only the Taleban but also with the situation of women in Islam and the whole situation in Afghanistan."

SKIRBLE: "What were some other contenders for word of the year?"

METCALF: "Well, there were just a few that got other votes. 'Theo-terrorism' was one of them, terrorism based on religious attitudes, and then 'homeland' in its new sense of the country to be defended against terrorist attacks, that got five votes. 'Theo-terrorism' got four votes. Another four votes went to 'mis-underestimate,' a small relic of the 'Bushisms' that before September (eleventh) probably would have been prominent among our list. And there were two votes for 'ground zero.'"

AA: Terms related to September eleventh also dominated other categories voted on by the linguists, including "most euphemistic."


"The winner in that was 'daisy-cutter,' the kind of serious bomb used by the U-S Air Force. It's not that it's a new word, but it was certainly newly prominent. Most creative was the term 'shoe-icide bomber,' a terrorist who has a bomb in his shoes."

RS: This year, the American Dialect Society added a special category, "most inspirational."


"We thought the phrase 'let's roll,' that was said by Todd Beamer in United Airlines Flight 93, and then was picked up by President Bush, was an especially inspirational response to the terrorist attacks."


"We will no doubt face new challenges. But we have our marching orders. My fellow Americans, let's roll (applause)."

RS: Todd Beamer had been talking to a telephone operator by cell phone. At the end, the operator heard him say: "Let's roll" -- meaning "it's time to act."

AA: Passengers on Flight 93 fought back. The airliner -- one of four planes hijacked on "nine-eleven" -- crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, averting a possible attack on Washington.

RS: As the focus of the nation changed, so did the nature of the words submitted by members of the American Dialect Society for their annual consideration.


METCALF: "We did have some nominations of pre-September eleventh words, and if there had been no September eleventh, then we would have gone for words like 'datacasting,' the use of broadcast television signals to send digital information, or 'desk-rage,' uncontrollable rage in a workplace, or 'interruptible.' Interruptible, an energy company customer who agrees to have service suspended if supply is short. And that, of course, was a big topic of conversation last January."

AA: Allan Metcalf of the American Dialect Society, speaking from his office at MacMurray College in Illinois, where he's an English professor. Now let's see if you can remember the winner last January for the word of two-thousand.

RS: That would be "chad" -- those bits of ballot card that made for such drama in the presidential election.

AA: And that's all for Wordmaster this week. Our e-mail address is We leave you with a song by Neil Young. It's called "Let's Roll." With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Let's Roll"/Neil Young