Blame social networking for the latest cutesy-pie neologism tapped as the New Oxford American Dictionary's 2009 Word of the Year: unfriend.
Up against a range of tech-related buzzwords that included "netbook," "sexting," and "paywall," the North American verbal tome maker decided to celebrate the asocial side of online acquaintance-making:
Unfriend: verb; to remove someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook.
"It has both currency and potential longevity," said Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford's US dictionary program in a written statement. "In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year."
She notes that most words with an 'un-' prefix are adjectives, such as unacceptable and unpleasant, although there are some familiar 'un-' verbs in circulation, such as uncap and unpack.
"But 'unfriend' is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of 'friend' that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!). Unfriend has real lex-appeal," she said. (Oh dear, must have been waiting some time to drop that one.)
Other finalists for New Oxford American Dictionary's 2009 word of the year included:
Hashtag: a # sign added to a word or phrase that enables Twitter users to search for tweets that contain similarly tagged items and view thematic sets
Netbook: a small, very portable laptop computer with limited memory
Paywall: a way of blocking access to a part of a website which is only available to paying subscribers
Freemium: a business model in which some basic services are provided for free, with the aim of enticing users to pay for additional, premium features or content
Funemployed: taking advantage of one's newly unemployed status to have fun or pursue other interests
Tramp Stamp: a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman
Birther: a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama's US birth certificate
And even stranger:
Teabagger: a person who protests President Obama's tax policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations known as "Tea Party" protests (in allusion to the Boston Tea Party of 1773)
The latter interestingly doesn't touch upon the testicular wordplay involved with "teabagger," which has made it a favorite among those who support Obama's policies. Either the folks at the Oxford University Press don't get out much, or they're having a bit of fun at the Republican Party's expense. ®