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New words in 2011 – a year in words

As 2011 draws to a close, we take our annual tour of some of the notable events of the year and highlight a few of the new words in 2011 which have played a part in describing them.

Coughs and sneezes spread diseases

The first few weeks of the year, when the fun and relaxation of Christmas is over but there's still a big chunk of winter ahead, are a period in which many people fall prey to the misery of that pesky cold virus. But in early 2011, many parts of the western world witnessed such a sudden and dramatic surge of flu cases that health professionals began talking of a flunami. This was not just some predictable seasonal peak in the number of people with runny noses, but a problem of epidemic proportions, putting unanticipated pressure on health services. A knock-on effect was an unprecedented demand for the flu vaccine, causing sceptical reference to the worried well – people who take medication or seek health advice unnecessarily because they are concerned about becoming ill.

'The number of confirmed flu cases in Ontario is six times higher than the average for early January … Health-care workers have begun to refer to the rise in fluenza-like symptoms in Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec as a flunami …'

CBC News 14th January 2011

Under the weather

In early February 2011 a massive snowstorm shrouded nearly a third of the United States in a white blanket. From the Rockies across to New England, the infrastructure struggled to get to grips with the situation, and even Chicago, the 'windy city' accustomed to extreme weather conditions, approached record-breaking snowfall. As the media reported on the freak conditions, there was an ensuing linguistic avalanche, with words like blizzaster, snowpocalypse, and snowmageddon hitting the headlines. In a flurry (excuse the pun!) of snow word play, lower-profile blends included snownami, thundersnow and snownado, and in the online community, the interjection of choice was, of course, snOMG.

'SNOMG! … First there was the anticipation and the stocking up, followed by the hunkering down, the act of being bodily blown down the street during an adrenaline rush of a midnight blizzard stroll, the hours of happy tromping and shoveling … Awkwardly clutching our fur hats and facemasks in one hand, we juggled beers in the other … and evaluated our fellow blizzaster survivors.'

Chicagomag.com 3rd February 2011

Shaping up

Fashion week in Paris – spring might only just be on the horizon but in March the designers were already looking ahead to next winter. Anyone who was not as slim as those models on the catwalk, and so might have trouble squeezing into the latest fashions, could consider losing weight by doing the increasingly popular Zumba, a form of fitness class where you burn off calories by spending an hour dancing insanely to the tunes of hip-hop, salsa and Bollywood music. If all that exercise had left you hungry, you must however beware of becoming a victim of leanwashing – your local fast food restaurant's 'healthy option' may not be quite as meagre on the calories as it's made out to be. Alternatively, for those of us who could see past their belly and down to their feet, a wacky new beauty treatment called fish pedicure was becoming more widely available – sit back, relax, and let those little fishies nibble away furiously at your bumpy old heels.

'Pregnant mom still dances to the beat … Abby Honaker made two women puke during one of her high-intensity Zumba classes. The owner and instructor of the Brickhouse Cardio Club didn't feel bad for pushing the women to the limit … She wants to prove anybody can work out, even if they are tired, overweight, scared or in her case, nine months pregnant.'

Bluefield Daily Telegraph 13th November 2011

For better, for worse

The eyes of the world focussed on the British royals in the month of the fairytale wedding between Prince William and the gorgeous 'commoner' Kate Middleton. Whether or not they chose to enjoy the spectacle of the eagerly awaited ceremony, UK citizens relished an extra day of leisure on the 29th April. It turned out, however, that Kate and Wills hadn't packed too large a suitcase on their wedding night, choosing instead to pop off by helicopter on a two-day mini-moon to an undisclosed location in the UK, a brief precursor to the real honeymoon several weeks later. Luckily however there were no hitches in the legal aspects of the marriage and, unlike US President Obama, William wasn't forced to refute the claims of birthers by producing his birth certificate.

'Following the recent wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton – now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – it emerged the newlyweds would take a short "mini-moon" weekend break in the UK and go on a long-haul vacation in a few weeks or months.'

Direct Travel Insurance 5th May 2011

A law unto themselves

In May 2011 it came to light that a number of celebrities and high-profile sports personalities had taken out superinjunctions, court orders which not only prevent the press from reporting a story, but also ensure the order's existence is kept secret too. Superinjunction became one of the UK's most frequently searched terms at this time, as the previously clandestine misdemeanours of those in the public eye piqued the curiosity of Internet users. Social networking service Twitter found itself at the centre of a debate about the regulation of social media, when a user apparently 'outed' celebrities who had legally prevented news outlets from reporting specific stories. As well as being guilty of not 'keeping mum', Twitter continued to be a power house of word play, with offerings such as twagiarism (Twitter + plagiarism = passing off someone else's words as your own on Twitter) and twisticuffs (Twitter + fisticuffs = a bit of a 'bust-up' on Twitter) joining the ever-increasing Twitter lexicon.

'The superinjunction is a precedent too far. At some point someone with very expensive lawyers convinced a judge to ban the old media from not only reporting the identity of the person who has got the injunction but also the existence of the junction. That's what Andrew Marr used to gag his fellow journalists from reporting an affair he'd had, until he got an attack of guilt and came clean …'

Express & Star 12th May 2011

Growing up

June, and as spring turns into summer, crops pop up in the fields whilst livestock graze the hills and valleys. But in the 21st century, it seems that agricultural activity may not be confined to the countryside. In a new concept described as vertical farming, scientists claim that there are strong economic and ecological arguments for mass-cultivating plants and animals in unconventional locations. Urban landscapes could begin to feature tall, skyscraper-like vertical farms, containing multiple storeys of plants and animals in a carefully controlled environment. What remains to be seen is whether the additional cost of artificial lighting, heating and other maintenance operations is in fact outweighed by the benefit of rearing the meat and veg right next to consumers.

'… why not create more agricultural land by building upwards? Such is the thinking behind vertical farming. The idea is that skyscrapers filled with floor upon floor of orchards and fields, producing crops all year round, will sprout in cities across the world.'

The Economist 9th December 2010

Putting your feet up

Halfway through the year and many of us were thinking about taking a break, but in these tough financial times, more economical approaches to holidaying continued to be explored. Following the royals' example of the mini-moon, one option was a nanobreak, a 48-hour burst of 'getting away from it all' with one overnight stay. Those of us wanting a few more nights away from home could alternatively exploit the good will of a mate who lived somewhere appealing and opt for a paliday. And for the workaholics among us, there was always the possibility of the fake-ation, where you disappear to some lovely location and simply pretend that you're on holiday, staying 'connected' and answering phone calls and emails to such an extent that you may as well have been in the office. For anyone who by contrast has time to kill, 2011 was the year of planking and owling, where people adopt plank- or owl-like poses in the most unusual locations they can manage. It remains to be seen, however, whether these two new leisure pursuits will be as enduring as sunbathing or a round of golf.

'The Shores Resort & Spa has created a package for career-conscious travellers who want to stay connected to work while on vacation – the Fake-ation Package. TripAdvisor says 59% of travellers are connected to work than more ever before during leisure travel, with 62% checking work email, and 13% calling the office on vacation.'

Visit Florida 7th March 2011

Time for change

In August 2011 Libyan revolutionary forces won the battle for Tripoli, resulting in the final collapse of over 40 years of totalitarianism and the fall (and subsequent death) of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. This event was a climax in a wave of revolutionary demonstrations which began in Tunisia in December 2010, and have become known as the Arab Spring. As well as civil war and regime collapse in Libya, 2011 has seen revolution and overthrown governments in Tunisia and Egypt, and major uprisings in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Kuwait and Bahrain. The Arab Spring protests have attracted widespread support from the international community, though political uncertainty has predictably had a negative effect on global economies, pushing up oil prices and deterring investment and trade.

'Across the Middle East and North Africa, the Arab Spring uprisings have hurt many businesses. Economies have slowed sharply as political uncertainty deters investment, new governments focus on trying to restore social stability instead of reforming economic policy …'

Chicago Tribune 15th November 2011

Speak out and camp out

Arguably taking inspiration from the Arab Spring, on 17th September 2011 a group of protestors took to the streets of New York, kicking off a chain of demonstrations which threw the verb occupy into the limelight. Beginning in the financial district of Wall Street and subsequently spreading to hundreds of locations across the world, the Occupy movement is a series of international protests directed primarily against capitalism and economic inequality. At the root of these protests are what in 2011 have regularly been described as austerity measures, official ways in which governments have been trying to cut spending in the face of economic problems. As well as marches involving as many as 10,000 protestors, the demonstrations have involved large numbers of people 'camping out', aka occupying, key venues in cities across the world. A particular hot spot was around the entrances to St Paul's Cathedral in central London, where over 200 tents formed a ramshackle campsite and caused officials to temporarily close the cathedral due to health and safety concerns, the first time this had happened since the Second World War Blitz.

'Nearly two weeks ago, an estimated 3,000 people assembled at Battery Park with the intention of occupying Wall Street. They were an eclectic group … But nearly everyone was angry at what they saw as a culture of out-of-control greed.'

Time 29th September 2011

Tech to go

In October 2011 one of the world's pioneers in personal computing, Steve Jobs, passed away at the age of 56. As the co-founder of Apple Inc, his legacy is a revolution in hand-held technology which has thrown more than a few new words into our everyday vocabulary. The main players in 2011 have been the smartphone, a small computer masquerading as a mobile phone which does everything you'd expect and more, and the tablet (or tab), a personal computer with touch-screen technology, whose sleek, slim proportions echo those smooth slabs of stone for which the word tablet was originally designated. Galvanized by those technophiles who love a good novel but feel that printed matter is far too 'last year', there's also been a surge in popularity of the e-reader (also known as the e-book reader), a portable electronic device designed primarily for reading digital books and periodicals. Oh yes, and in an effort to ensure that all these devices can communicate with one another in interdependent harmony, the IT world is now taking inspiration from mother nature to develop its very own ecosystem.

'When you consider a tablet, it is prudent to not only consider what you get, but also what you do not get. The Fire, for example, does not have cameras. Its screen is larger than your average smartphone, but it still feels a bit small for web browsing and typing emails.'

Tom's Hardware Guide 15th November 2011

Cutting and spreading

It seems that in 2011 your local barber's wasn't the only place where there was talk of haircuts. The economic crisis in the Eurozone reached a climax in November, with Greece being in such financial dire straits that it seemed on the verge of withdrawing from the euro. In an effort to rescue the country from its crippling debts, German and French advisers called for a 50 per cent haircut, or in other words, recommended that Athens be allowed to write off around half of its debt. Using the spread of infectious disease as a metaphor for growing economic meltdown, the financial lexicon adopted the word contagion, with Eurozone countries Greece, Ireland and Portugal being among the worst casualties. And in an attempt to throw a lifeline, there was renewed discussion of quantitative easing, an injection of cash from a central bank sometimes likened to throwing money from the sky in a kind of financial 'airlift'. Continuing the military metaphor, the European Central Bank was reportedly urged to ride to the rescue in the form of a bazooka, a large amount of money made available at crisis point.

'BlackRock calls for 80% Greek haircut … BlackRock is calling for bond holders to write off 80% of the value of Greek, Portuguese and Irish debt, suggesting that recent agreements between European regulators and investors in government debt do not go nearly far enough.'

Financial News 15th November 2011

Cashless or penniless?

December already, and many of us will have been hitting the shopping streets for our Christmas goodies, in doing so giving the retail industry a much needed boost. But in 2011, the way we make our purchases is changing. The humble cheque is most definitely yesterday's news, gradually being rejected by many retailers. And even those little pieces of plastic shouldn't take their future role for granted, as technology advances towards the concept of wave and pay – a simple flick of your mobile in front of an appropriately-enabled device and your bank account is debited before your phone's back in your pocket. What's more, if you do use a card then you won't need to remember your PIN for too much longer – a glimpse of your plastic and a contactless payment system can identify it for you by the magic of radio frequency. And even if it's just a bar of chocolate or the Sunday paper, there's no need to carry coins in your pocket   those small purchases can be made with a wave of plastic too, in a move towards cashless payment systems. If however, your current financial situation lends a different interpretation to the word cashless, then you'll be looking for ways to economize. You could always green your Christmas shopping by visiting the charity shops – a triple-whammy of saving cash, giving to charity and recycling unwanted goods. And if you need to take the weight off those aching shopper's feet, why not sit on a bench with a takeaway sandwich and a vending machine cheapuccino?

'Imagine being able to buy those little things like a cup of coffee, sandwich or newspaper without carrying cash. Contactless technology lets you do just that. It sets you free to make fast and secure payments for items of £15 or less. All you need to do is hold your card near the reader and you're ready to go.'

Barclays.co.uk 2011

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last year …

Read about the BuzzWords of 2010. The twelve words of Christmas.

This article was first published on 19th December 2010.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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