The Iowa caucus voting results are in, and so is the American Dialect Society’s 18th annual words of the year vote (PDF), and "subprime" won by a large margin. The vote, of course, reflects the preoccupation of the press and public for the past year with a deepening mortgage crisis. The American Dialect Society (ADS) is an 118-year-old organization whose members include include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, authors, editors, professors, university students, and independent scholars.
According to the ADS, the vote is the longest-running such vote anywhere, the only one not tied to commercial interests, and the word-of-the-year event up to which all others lead. It is fully informed by the members’ expertise in the study of words, but it is far from a solemn occasion.
Benjamin Zimmer writing about the award in his blog, Language Log, says that "Subprime"
has already been used in an extended sense to refer to the "subprime crisis" in the housing sector, and it could very well spawn other extensions as the crisis worsens. (One recent article claims that it is being used as a fanciful verb, as in "I subprimed my algebra test," but I haven’t come across any evidence of that in the wild.)
Well, Ben, I’ll let you know if I hear any of our clients’ younger employees say that "my 401(k) was subprimed". Hopefully, not.
Picture credit: Part of a series called BEST IN SHOW: The best and worst tradeshow displays at Calgary’s HomExpo 2007 by elboroom design via Flickr.