SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) — After a tumultuous 12 months, American linguist experts agreed Friday that 2001's "word of the year" was actually a number — 9/11, shorthand for the Sept. 11 attacks.
The American Dialect Society, in an annual ritual marking the newest words, phrases and expressions to enter American English over the past year, waved away contenders ranging from "assoline" to "second-hand speech" to hand the crown to "9/11" which — before the hijacked aircraft attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon — was just another date.
"In America it is now the way of referring to the most horrendous event of the century," said Prof. Robert Stockwell of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Previous words of the year selected by the Dialect Society have ranged from the obscure (1991's "bushlips," referring to insincere political rhetoric) to the omnipresent (1999's "Y2K," referring to the new millennium).
But this year's candidates were clearly colored by the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, which have launched countless new terms into the nation's linguistic pool.
"Daisy cutter," military shorthand for a powerful U.S. bomb used in the war in Afghanistan, was voted the "most euphemistic" new word while "shoe-icide bomber," a reference to a man who allegedly sought to bring down an aircraft with explosives hidden in his sneakers, was dubbed "most creative."
Other candidates mentioned at Friday's meeting in San Francisco included "Osamaniac," for women sexually attracted to militant Islamic leader Osama bin Laden, "theoterrorism", referring to attacks on civilians for religious purposes, and "women of cover" for Muslim women who wear traditional dress.
Wayne Glowka, an English professor at Georgia College and State University and head of the Dialect Society's new words committee, said the media have become a primary conduit for new words entering the language.
"When CNN broadcasts a word, millions of people hear it," he said. "People then begin using it to show that they are part of the group."
Not all of the words debated at Friday's meeting carried grim connotations of America's "war on terrorism" — although the linguistic echo of Sept. 11 was hard to ignore.
Along with "weaponize," nominated as a word "most likely to succeed" after its repeated use in reference to anthrax attacks in the United States, some dialect experts also suggested "weapons-grade" as a new catch-all superlative.
"Weapons-grade salsa would mean really hot," said Allan Metcalf, the society's executive secretary and a member of the English Department at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois.
"Assoline" — meaning fuel made from methane — was voted as the year's "most outrageous" word while "second-hand speech" was given the nod as a useful term for referring to the din of strangers talking on cellphones.
The experts agreed the most unnecessary word or phrase of the year was "impeachment nostalgia," meaning a longing for the superficial news of the Clinton era.
President Bush, who may have liked last year's new word winner "chad," was cited as the source for one of this year's candidates — "misunderestimate" — although it failed to garner sufficient votes to make the slate. The term "9-11" presented some confusion as dialect specialists disagreed on whether it was pronounced "Nine-Eleven," "Nine One One" or simply "September 11th."
But most agreed it should be named the word of the year, outstripping even the "ground zero" reference to the World Trade Center ruins as a clear and simple addition to the national vocabulary that will stand the test of time.
"It is going to be like the 4th of July or Pearl Harbor," Glowka said.