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Jewish World Review
Jan 2, 2012/ 7 Teves, 5772
Pragmatic look at top words
Merriam-Webster recently announced that its top word of the year is “pragmatic.” Is it too punny of us to note that it was a logical choice?
The word was looked up so many times on the company’s online dictionary that publishers had no choice but to be, as the word is defined, practical, realistic, hardheaded, sensible, matter-of-fact or down-to-earth about the decision.
It is a word that we are so often asked to be, and so often by people who do it much too well, at times at the expense of compassion – Congress, CEOs and other authority figures, just to name a few.
But we’re not sure that this is the season to emphasize, as John Morse, president and publisher of the dictionary company told the Associated Press, “practicality over frivolity.”
For this is the time of year in which we are fanciful and sometimes foolish and whimsical and other words – also found in Merriam-Webster – that indicate we’ve reverted to childhood, at least for a time.
“Austerity” was 2010’s top word. In 2009, it was “admonish.” And, as you might recall, “bailout” was the big one for 2008. Sadly, other words making the top 10 list this year include some we’d rather not use in reference to ourselves or friends: ambivalence, insidious and vitriol.
We have other wordsmiths out there who designate words of the year. A good bet for the American Dialect Society is “occupy,” not so much because people need to look it up for a definition but because it is a word in the American consciousness. According to AP, the group’s annual choice refers to a word that “members consider widely used, demonstrably new or popular and reflects the year’s popular discourse.”
Which “occupy” does.
The Oxford English Dictionary, that bastion of all things proper, selected not one word but two: “squeezed middle.” It’s credited to a British politician and used to describe “the financial pinch” felt by Great Britain’s middle class.
Of course, that phrase could also refer to us, as we exercise our non-pragmatic season of celebration by consuming tidbits we deny ourselves the rest of the year and find ourselves with a “squeezed middle” come January.
Which will be soon enough, thank you very much, to start thinking pragmatically again.
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