What’s your favorite new word? Selfie? Twerking?

The OED has named selfie its word of the year for 2013.

The publisher of the Oxford dictionaries said Tuesday that ‘‘selfie’’ saw a huge jump in usage in the past year, bursting from the confines of Instagram and Twitter to become mainstream shorthand for any self-taken photograph.

But the other finalists are also fine words in their own right:

The term beat other buzzwords including ‘‘twerk,’’ the sexually provocative dance move that got a huge boost in usage thanks to an attention-grabbing performance by pop star Miley Cyrus; ‘‘showrooming,’’ the practice of visiting a shop to look at a product before buying it online at a lower price; and ‘‘Bitcoin,’’ the digital currency that gained widespread media attention.

Also making the shortlist was ‘‘binge-watch,’’ a verb that describes watching many episodes of a TV show in rapid succession.

I’ll confess that I haven’t twerked, but the other words have all become part of my life.  One son posted a selfie on Facebook after he shaved off his beard. The other son has bought a Bitcoin, which is currently showing a 1000% profit; we had an interesting discussion about Bitcoin’s liquidity and volatility — how did he get so smart?  My lovely wife and I were showrooming for TVs at Best Buy recently.  And then there was the evening we were watching our third straight episode of “Homeland,” and we said to each other, “There’s got to be a word for what we’re doing….”

It’s interesting that WordPress’s spelling dictionary recognizes none of these brave new words.  Catch up with the times, WordPress!

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The bell tolls for “whom”

Here is a nice essay about the inevitable decline and fall of “whom,” a word that continues to exist only to trip people up and make them feel stupid. The Google Ngram Viewer for “whom” shows a decline of about 75% from its peak in 1820 or so to today.  But why?

One explanation is that the word has outlived its ability to fulfill the most important function of language: to clarify and specify. Another is that its subject/object distinction can be confusing to the point of frustrating. The most immediate reason, though, is that whom simply costs language users more than it benefits them. Correctness is significantly less appealing when its price is the appearance of being—as an editor at The Guardian wrote—a “pompous twerp.”

The writer quotes William Safire about what a writer should do about the word: “The best rule for dealing with who vs. whom is this: Whenever whom is required, recast the sentence.”

It’s annoying that “whom” continues to bedevil us when there are so many words that we need but that don’t yet exist.  Here are just a few:

  • A gender-neutral singular word for “they” and “them” instead of the atrocious “s/he” and the wordy “him or her”
  • A word like “either” that applies to more than two choices
  • A word for someone you are living with who is more than your girlfriend or boyfriend and less than your fiancée or spouse or (ugh) life partner

These words would make a writer’s life a whole lot better.  Whom can I talk to about coming up with them?