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Wordsleuth (2007, vol. 4, 1): When the Eye-Gazing Party Ends in a Bump

Katherine Barber
(Language Update, Volume 4, Number 1, 2007, page 36)

Time to look at some words that were new to us at the Canadian Oxford Dictionary in 2006 (although many of them started out earlier). The usual vocabulary-producing suspects line up: technology, fitness, health, relationships.

Technology, of course, is always the most productive. We heard more about mobisodes: snippets of TV shows broadcast to mobile phones. WNP or wireless number portability was a hot topic for owners of mobile phones who wanted to switch their phone provider without having to change their phone number. Adding to the list of types of on-line fraud was ransomware, where someone locks your files and then sends you an e-mail telling you to cough up money to have them unlocked.

No year can go by without a new fitness craze, and this year brought to our attention the intriguing yogalates, which sounds like a coffee drink made with yogourt. Like piloga, it is a combination of "yoga" and "pilates" (a hot word a few years back). Also in recreation, we heard about the very dangerous pastime of kite tubing (being pulled by a powerboat on an innertube so that the tube becomes airborne) and the very annoying one of driving noisy miniature motorbikes called pocket bikes.

We lexicographers often find that a word has actually been in existence for five or ten years before it impinges on the general consciousness. This is true of two words I first noticed last year, which are too good not to mention. Cyberchondria is the condition of convincing oneself one is sick from having read too many medical sites on the Web. Cyberchondriacs are unlikely to suffer from presenteeism (the opposite of "absenteeism"), the phenomenon of people who go to work even though sick.

A new kind of "speed dating" (itself a new word a mere six years ago) was the eye-gazing party in which potential mates looked soulfully into each other’s eyes to determine whether they were a match made in an optometrist’s office. If all went well, before they knew it, the female eye-gazer might find herself with a bump, a word much loved in the tabloids in 2006 to designate any celebrity pregnancy.

In the "some people have way too much money" category, there was the aqua bar (bar serving bottled water at inflated prices), staffed by the aqua sommelier, who can advise on which of the many brands of water are most suitable for a given occasion. No word on whether they’re any good at providing easily accessible uncontaminated water to the millions of people in underdeveloped countries who are dying for lack of it. In the same category, we discovered grills: diamond-encrusted plates across the teeth. Having had to wear braces not once but twice, I can’t imagine why anyone would have this done, diamonds or not.

We also noticed some brand new Canadianisms in 2006. Very early in the year, Albertans were happy recipients of $400 cheques from their provincial government. Prosperity cheques, the bureaucrats called them. Ralphbucks, said the people. Before the end of the year, Ralph Klein was no longer the premier, and the Alberta government is not showing any signs of repeating the largesse, so it is unlikely that Ralphbucks will ever make it into the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

The Quebec government too was indirectly responsible for the creation of a new vocabulary item. Midyear, Quebec (like Ontario) passed some stringent anti-smoking bylaws. The Quebec government officials in charge of enforcing them were quickly dubbed tobacco troopers, a variation on tongue troopers, already used jocularly for the "language police" of the Office québécois de la langue française .

On the grammatical front, a tendency we noted in 2006 (unpoliced by anyone) was the waning of the gerund modifier. So swimming lessons have become swim lessons, waiting times wait times, and I even noticed an advertisement for smoking cessation programs (not yet smoke cessation) that included quit strategies.

Although we will have to wait to see if any of these words will make it into dictionaries, there was one event in 2006 that no lexicographer could ignore: the demotion of Pluto from planet status by the International Astronomical Union. The American Dialect Society even voted the word plutoed (purportedly meaning "demoted or devalued") its word of the year. I have my doubts about that, but we certainly need to keep an eye on pluton and dwarf planet, proposed by the IAU for not-quite-true-planets.

Will 2007 bring mobisodes of yogalates classes? For that matter, will someone try to combine pilates classes and speed dating? Stay tuned.