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Podcasting and Parkour: A Look at 2005

Katherine Barber
(Language Update, Volume 3, Number 1, 2006, page 41)

Podcast was the word of 2005, according to research and a survey we conducted at the end of last year. The word, derived from the name of Apple’s hugely popular iPod personal audio player, designates a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading. It is among a number of new technology-related words that became particularly prominent last year. Podcasting started in late 2004 and has really taken off: a Google search in December 2004 for the term produced almost 200 million hits. The word will be included in the second edition of the Paperback Oxford Canadian Dictionary, to be published in March 2006.

Other technology-related words that started on the fringes of the language before 2005 really impinged on our consciousness in the past year: Crackberry (a nickname for a BlackBerry because of its addictive qualities, which dates from 2002), infomania (constant checking of e-mail and text messages), VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol, a way of providing cheap long-distance telephone service using the Internet) and Wi-Fi (a standard for high-speed wireless transmission of data over a relatively small range). Rapid advances in mobile phone technology have given us the rescue ring (a function on a cellphone that phones you so that you have an excuse to duck out of a bad date, etc.) and snaparazzi (people who take pictures of celebrities with their camera phones).

Technology is a very rich source of new words, but it is not the only one. Leisure activities acquainted us with the wildly popular number-grid game, Sudoku, and the rather bizarre sport of running and climbing over urban structures known as parkour (derived from the French parcours). We did not include Sudoku in the new dictionary because it may well be like those children’s toys that enjoy a wild vogue for a year and then fade away: an adult version of the Tamagotchi. Indeed, in early December a new numbers-based, crossword-like puzzle called Kakuro started appearing in Canadian newspapers.

Sexuality also provides much new vocabulary. We had, for instance, friends with benefits (friends who have sex regularly with each other without being in a committed romantic relationship). That is to say, we had the word; we didn’t personally have such friends! There was the ubersexual (a man who combines traditional masculine traits like strength with "new man" qualities of communicativeness and co-operation) and the wing girl (an attractive girl hired by a man to accompany him to a party, etc. to make him more attractive to other women).

And the year would not have been complete without a word reflecting our obsession with food and weight. In 2005, it was microsize, the opposite of supersize, designating the trend among food manufacturers to produce small-sized versions of fattening treats: the 100-calorie chocolate bar or bag of potato chips.

Natural disasters were particularly prominent in 2005. January saw much use of the term competitive compassion for the tendency of donor nations to outbid one another’s aid contribution after a natural disaster like the tsunami. It also made Canadians more familiar with DART (the Canadian Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team), which was actually created in 1996 after the humanitarian disaster in Rwanda.

You may recall that in 2004, we determined that bird flu was the new word most likely to stay in the language and included it in the second edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. That decision has certainly been justified by events. Podcasting, like all technological terms, may be swept away by some innovation, but for now it’s here to stay.