This is a column dedicated to a couple of unrelated items.
Sometimes when I write about things here on the Front Porch, there either isn’t enough room to get it all in or I’ve not quite got enough to complete a whole column. Still, things are left unsaid, so I’m putting two not-really-connected items into a column of short takes.
First, something that makes me smile. It’s the section I had to leave out in a report on the miniature guillotine a young girl from Indiana received for Christmas from her grandmother in Spokane.
My friend Erin, a faculty member at Notre Dame University, who was my work-study student when I was employed at Eastern Washington University, brought her young daughters, ages 10 and 7, back to her hometown of Spokane for a family visit over the holidays, which is where the whole guillotine thing happened.
Because Indiana is so flat, the girls have little firsthand experience with hills. Erin told me whenever they’d drive down even the slightest little slope, her daughters Kennedy and Morgan would throw their arms up in the air, roller-coaster fashion. She has been telling them inclines in Indiana are most definitely not hills. Wait until they get back to Spokane, she said.
So one day over the holidays when we all were driving around Spokane to see and do some things together – the Manito Park Gaiser Conservatory with all its Christmas lights and going to Ferrante’s for gelato, both on the South Hill – I decided to drive down the Freya Street hill on the way back to where they were staying in Browne’s Addition.
I made sure there was a good and safe distance between my car and the one in front of us and pushed the speed just a tad bit, not enough so we got airborne (or ticketed), but enough so the maximum (safe) effect of going down that steep hill could be felt.
As we approached the top of the hill, the girls noted from the back seat that it looked like we were going to run out of road. “Nope,” I said. “That’s where the hill kicks in.” And it did. When we got to the bottom, after the short roller-coaster ride, their mother turned around to them and said, “Now that’s a hill!”
The second short take is the missing part from the story I wrote recently about the 2019 words of the year, as selected by assorted organizations that focus on such things. It was missing because the American Dialect Society hadn’t yet held its annual meeting, and consequently hadn’t yet made its choice.
The Society’s selection is important in the discussion because it is the longest-running word-of-the-year vote anywhere and isn’t tied to a commercial endeavor. Its choice for 2019 was “(my) pronouns” – that is, as an introduction for sharing one’s personal pronouns. “Hello. My name is Stefanie. My personal pronouns are she/her.”
Ben Zimmer, chair of the Society’s New Words Committee, noted that “when a basic part of speech like the pronoun becomes a vital indicator of social trends, linguists pay attention.”
It’s probably not an unexpected choice, as their just-selected word of the decade (2010-19) was “they,” as the gender-neutral pronoun for an individual, used as a nonbinary identifier.
Some of the runners-up for word of the year were “OK boomer,” as a retort to an older person whose views appear either condescending or out of touch, and “Karen,” as a stereotype for a self-important and complaining white woman of a certain age. Other entries in the word-of-the-decade competition were “#BlackLivesMatter,” “climate,” “emoji,” “#MeToo” and “selfie.”
Looking a little deeper into words selected by the Society for assorted designations, the political word (or phrase) of the year for 2019 was “quid pro quo,” a term for the exchange of favors (especially in the context of the presidential impeachment investigation). The euphemism of the year chosen by the Society was “people of means,” a term attributed to Starbucks’ Howard Schultz in referring to himself and his fellow billionaires.
And for the nerdier among us, the Society’s companion organization, the American Name Society, chose “Arrokoth,” the name of a very far away minor planet, as its name of the year for 2019. I don’t know why.
For context, as I wrote about earlier, some of the words of the year for 2019 from other organizations were “climate emergency” (Oxford Dictionaries), “they” (Merriam-Webster) and “existential” (Dictionary.com).
Lest any of these words annoy, take heart, for not all will become forever popular and common additions to vocabulary and public consciousness. The Society notes that words of the year “Y2K” (1999) and “chad” (2000) have pretty much disappeared from use and even memory.
Personally, as a woman of a certain age who has strong and often-shared opinions about things, I would like to see “ OK boomer” fade quickly from sight – and more importantly, from sound. It’s annoying and too close to home.
But, alas, I think that one will be with us for some time to come.
Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.