DEAR READER: Words of the Year form odd collection

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 | 5:32 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — "Because," "selfie" and "science" might seem like odd bedfellows in the world of words, but for 2013 they share exalted space.

"Because" is the Word of the Year, or WOTY, chosen by the American Dialect Society in its 24th annual vote. For Oxford Dictionaries, the Word of the Year 2013 was "selfie." "Science" was chosen as the WOTY for 2013 by Merriam-Webster. Its 10 Words of the Year for 2013, according to its website, were "compiled by analyzing the top lookups in the online dictionary at"

According to a report about the annual voting at the American Dialect Society, "because" was selected in recognition that it "is now being used in new ways to introduce a noun, adjective or other part of speech."

The report cited an explanation by Ben Zimmer of how WOTYs are chosen. Zimmer is chairman of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society and executive producer of and the Visual Thesaurus. He is also the language columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

“This past year, the very old word because exploded with new grammatical possibilities in informal online use. No longer does because have to be followed by of or a full clause. Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like ‘because science’ or ‘because reasons.’ You might not go to a party ‘because tired.’ As one supporter put it, because should be Word of the Year ‘because useful!’”

Other candidates in the WOTY voting were: slash, twerk, Obamacare and selfie.

In an unsigned blog post at Oxford Dictionaries, the Word of the Year 2013 was "selfie." The writer said the unanimous decision was unusual. While the Oxford Dictionaries word choice does not need to be a new word, "it does need to demonstrate some kind of prominence over the preceding year or so, and selfie certainly fits the bill," the post states. "If it is good enough for the Obamas or The Pope, then it is good enough for Word of the Year."

Oxford found the first use of "selfie" in a 2002 blog post when the Australian writer apologized for a blurry photo by saying: "Sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster also has selected its annual 10 Words of the Year for 2013. According to the website, "this year's list was compiled by analyzing the top lookups in the online dictionary at and focusing on the words that showed the greatest increase in lookups this year as compared to last year."

"... The words that prompted the most increased interest in 2013 were not new words or words used in headlines, but rather they were the words behind the stories in this year's news," the column stated.

And so for 2013, "science" was the most looked up word for the online site.

The column quoted Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large at Merriam-Webster, explaining how science came to be the Word of the Year:

"It is a word that is connected to broad cultural dichotomies: observation and intuition, evidence and tradition. A wide variety of discussions centered on science this year, from climate change to educational policy. ...  It's a topic that has great significance for us. And it fascinates us — enough so that it saw a 176% increase in lookups this year over last, and stayed a top lookup throughout the year."

The other words in the top 10 lookup for 2013 in order are: cognitive, rapport, communication, niche, ethic, paradox, visceral, integrity and metaphor.

Being selected as a WOTY is no guarantee of a long shelf life, as beautifully illustrated by Britt Peterson in "Words of the Year: Where are they now?," a column in The Boston Globe.

"... Word of the Year is more than a linguistic parlor game: It’s a snapshot of a year in the culture," she wrote. "... Still, looking back at the WOTYs that have endured and the ones that haven’t says a lot about what it takes for words to be more than a one-hit wonder."

Peterson cites Allan Metcalf, an English professor at MacMurray College who started the WOTY voting at the American Dialect Society and is the author of “Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Success.”

"He calls his criteria for new-word stickiness the 'FUDGE factors': frequency of use; unobtrusiveness (is it normal-sounding enough to become a comfortable part of speech?); diversity of users (i.e., can you say it at the dinner table and be understood?); generation of new forms (is it grammatically versatile?); and endurance of a concept (does it describe something that will continue to exist?)," Peterson wrote.

Among several WOTYs that have greatly faded, if not outright disappeared, are 1990's "Bushlips," 1993’s “information superhighway,” 1994's "to gingrich," 1995's "to newt" and 1997’s “millennium bug." “Tweet,” the 2009 Word of the Year, is still going strong. But, as Peterson writes, since it is linked to technology, it could fade away, too.

After being stuck in Evansville, Ind., for two days during the recent winter storms, I already have a nomination for the 2014 WOTY: polar vortex. I've said it rather frequently recently while shivering through subzero temperatures and driving on snow-crusted interstates — sometimes in a loud voice and sometimes muttered with a grumble.

And, if truth is to be told, those two words were sometimes accompanied by other words that typically aren't published in a community newspaper.  

For December, seven participants submitted 14 entries in the Show Me the Errors contest. The winner is Ann Edwards. She will receive a Missourian T-shirt and a copy of  "Yes, I Could Care Less" by Bill Walsh.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at Happy belated 100th birthday to crossword puzzles. The New York World published the first "word cross" created by Arthur Wynne on Dec. 21, 1913. The answer to 1 across is "fun."

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