'Unfriend' as word of the year? Is 2009 so cold?

Not necessarily. Instead, the New Oxford American Dictionary has chosen "unfriend" (meaning to remove someone from your friend list on a social network like Facebook) as 2009 Word of the Year because of its "currency and potential longevity," says Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford's US dictionary program, who adds that, " 'Unfriend' has real lex-appeal."

Actually some of the other words under consideration for 2009 WOTY – such as "birther" and "death panels" – were in some respects even less friendly.  Other finalists included "sexting," "hashtag," "freemium," "funemployed," "teabagger," and "deleb."

The important attributes considered in selecting a WOTY are both its popularity and its cultural importance over the course of the past 12 months. So it should not be surprising that both technology and economic turbulence seem to have had their impact on language in 2009.

The 2009 choice also shows a swing away from concerns about the environment. Although several of the 2009 WOTY finalists did have green roots ("ecotown," "brown state," and "green state"), it was the first time in recent years that the WOTY did not spring fairly directly from the lexicon of environmentalists.

Over the course of the past three years, ("hypermiling" in 2008, "locavore" in 2007, and "carbon neutral" in 2006), the WOTY selections had been starting to look pretty green.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe.

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