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January 17, 1999 - Word of 1998 - 2002-02-11

INTRO: It's time for Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble to talk about their Name the Next Decade Contest again. But first our Wordmasters reveal the "word of the year" for 1998, just chosen by some watchdogs of American English.

MUSIC: "Auld Lang Syne"

AA: Nineteen-ninety-eight, a year in which the term "sexual relations" suddenly figured into the fate of a presidency. I'm Avi Arditti.

RS: And I'm Rosanne Skirble. The story from the White House dominated what Americans talked about in 1998. Or did it?

AA: Each year the American Dialect Society chooses a word or phrase that best reflects the previous year. That group calls itself "the only scholarly association dedicated to the study of the English language in north America."

RS: Here to announce the Word of the Year for 1998 is the society's executive secretary, Allan Metcalf.


METCALF: "It's 'e-' -- the prefix 'e-' as in not only e-mail, which has been around for quite awhile, but also e-commerce, e-business, e-activity, e-about anything having to do with the Internet and electronics. There was quite a bit of debate about whether it should be something having to do with 'sexual relations' or something to have to do with the Internet. So it was very close."

AA: "What was the final vote?"

METCALF: "The final vote was 31 for 'e-' and 28 for 'sexual relations,' so I guess you could say we were more excited by electrons than sex."

RS: So the winner was "e-" -- actually, e-hyphen ... "e" for electronic.

AA: Allan Metcalf says e- is really more of what he calls a "lexical unit" than a word or phrase. But he says the American Dialect Society looks for a term that sets off possibilities in people's minds.


"So another term that came close to being -- well, it was chosen as 'brand-new word' and actually it's a brand word -- is the suffix '-agra,' as not only in the brand name Viagra but also all sorts of humerous spinoffs of that. 'Viagravision' is television devoted to sex in the guise of science and politics, 'viagrafication' is the process of making something excited or stimulated. Anyhow, there are lots of plays on Viagra as well as Viagra itself, the brand, that special drug being something people talked about last year."

RS: Viagra is that new anti-impotence drug for men.

AA: The language experts also choose notable words in other categories:


METCALF: "As 'most original' we chose 'multi-slacking' which is a term for doing something at your computer other than the work you're expected to do. So 'multi-slacking,' I guess, is based on 'multi-tasking.' As 'most euphemistic' we chose 'senior moment.' A senior moment is a momentary lapse of memory due to age.

And we found ourselves having quite a few senior moments as we went through our discussion, as a matter of fact."

AA: Allan Metcalf, executive secretary of the American Dialect Society -- which will have a lot to vote on come next January.

RS: Allan Metcalf says that's because the group will choose, not just a word or phrase or lexical unit of this year, but also of the decade and of the 20th century.

AA: And, after that, they'll choose a word of the millennium!

RS: But Allan Metcalf says the group won't take sides on whether the next millennium starts in 2000 or 2001.

AA: The official answer is 2001 -- even if it is celebrated next year. Anyway, last week we announced our VOA Wordmaster Name the Next Decade Contest. We talk about the seventies, the eighties, the nineties --

RS: So what are we going to call the first ten years of the 21th century? Think about that. We'll reward every suggestion with a VOA souvenir. But the better the idea, the better the prize.

AA: The top prizes are some nice black VOA T-shirts. March second is the deadline. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "2001: A Space Odyssey" movie theme