The Oxford University Press has chosen a “word of the year”—by which it presumably means the word it regards as most representative of that year’s zeitgeist. Naturally, the OUP’s British and American lexicographers have very different ideas about which words are tops.
For 2012, the Brits chose omnishambles—defined as a “situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged and is characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.” Wonder what they had in mind? A shambles, from the Middle English schamel (“vendor’s table”), is a slaughterhouse, and, hence, “a scene of great destruction or disarray.”
Omnishambles occasionally shows up in a variant—Romneyshambles—referring to the disastrous public relations fiasco the former U. S. Presidential candidate created during his pre-Olympics visit to the United Kingdom.
Runners-up included mummy porn (or “mommy” porn in Americanese), a “literary genre represented by Fifty Shades of Grey”; and green-on-blue, “military attacks by forces regarded as neutral,” derived from the color of the uniforms of Afghan attackers of NATO forces.
Believe it or not, the word of the year chosen by American editors was GIF. That’s an acronym of “graphic interchange format,” a method of posting to the Internet those images of cute kittens, precocious children, and heaping plates of food that we all love to see. GIF can be used either as a noun or a verb.
Runners-up in the Yanks’ competition included Eurogeddon (the potential financial collapse of Greece and other countries in the Eurozone), superPAC (those political action committees the Supreme Court unleashed on our recent elections), nomophobia (a “fear of being without one’s mobile phone”), and Higgs boson, of which by now everyone knows the meaning.
Ironically, selection as word of the year does not guarantee inclusion in any Oxford dictionaries. That honor demands long-time usage, which few neologisms can muster. There are five factors in a word’s survival, according to wordsmith Allan Metcalf: frequency of use, unobtrusiveness , diversity of users and situations, generation of other forms and meanings, and endurance of the concept.
There is only one factor in the continued survival of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou: sufficient Chardonnay to fuel his late-night lucubrations, which generate such droolings of rhyming spittle as the following:
My life is one big omnishambles,
In which I love to wallow,
As through the mess my spirit ambles,
In hopes the Muse will follow.
At night I lie upon a bed
Beneath a weeping willow,
Till morning comes l rest my head
Upon a sodden pillow.
I try to rise, to no avail,
Amidst the hurly-burly,
But like a little piglet’s tail,
Eight o’clock’s twirly.