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Word of the Year 2009: Distracted Driving

Posted in Word of the Year Candidates, Word of the Year: Final Five Candidate with tags , , , , , , on November 2, 2009 by Natalie

Distracted driving – what many are guilty of when they use digital devices on the go – is rapidly entering law books around the world and earns the 2009 Word of the Year choice at Webster’s New World® College Dictionary.

What is Distracted Driving?

Watch Editor-in-Chief Mike Agnes explain why Webster’s New World Dictionary selected distracted driving as Word of the Year:

A sign of the times surely, distracted driving is another reflection – and consequence – of our ongoing romance with all things digital and mobile and the enhanced capabilities they provide. While it now may be easier and quicker to feed our multitasking habits, it is not always safe, and many jurisdictions are formalizing that position by making it a crime to text or otherwise use a cellphone while driving. In other words, CrackBerry users beware, lest a charge of DWD (driving while distracted) or DWT (driving while texting) stain your record, not to mention endanger yourself and others. (CrackBerry – the mocking term for the BlackBerry™ and its “addicts” – was the 2006 Word of the Year.)

The term distracted driving is also a linguistic catch, note Webster’s New World® editors. As with drunk driving, it is not the driving that is drunk or distracted, but rather the driver. The target of the modifier distracted has been changed. Called hypallage, this twist is frequently seen in poetry, but as terms like restless night, juvenile detention center, and careless remark attest, such semantic inversion is not limited to the heights of language use.

The competition for 2009 Word of the Year at Webster’s New World® had several worthy contenders. Among the runners-up were

  • cloud computing: computer operations in which documents and data are created, edited, and stored remotely on servers and accessed by the user via an Internet connection (a beta definition, but this term is so well established that it will likely be added to the annual update of the College Dictionary in 2010)
  • wallet biopsy: examination, before medical service is provided, of a patient’s ability to pay, enabling the health care provider to decide whether free or discounted medical care is appropriate; a term probably fueled in part by the debate on national health care and a number of business and economy-related terms, such as stimulus and Too Big To Fail.

Choosing the Word of the Year is a pleasant exercise that the editors and language researchers (called citation readers) of Webster’s New World® look forward to each year. “We survey the emerging English of the past year,” says Editor in Chief Michael Agnes, “and choose one word (or phrase) that captures our imagination – whether with its intrinsic linguistic attributes or by the way it expresses how language reflects changing realities.”

“In most cases,” says Agnes, “the word chosen is a new one and thus hasn’t yet found its way into the dictionary. As we do not try to predict the future of language change in English, the choice does not reflect an opinion that the term will eventually be found in the dictionary. In short, it’s merely one that made us chuckle, think, reflect, or just shake our heads. In any case, it is a product of our language monitoring program, by which we collect examples of emerging new English – to the tune of nearly 3,000 new examples per month. Our citation files now hold approximately 2 million such examples.”

Through more than five decades of language research, Webster’s New World® lexicographers have created a uniquely modern dictionary that helps you understand and use the language as no other dictionary can. With the most readable, precise, and up-to-date definitions, the dictionary also has reference sections that provide a wealth of information not found in any other college-level dictionary. Included are rules of punctuation, geographical tables, and scientific and measurement charts. The rich history of our language is traced with the identification of Americanisms and with detailed etymologies, and the dictionary also boasts higher-quality paper that enhances readability and durability.

Selected by the Associated Press,The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other leading newspapers as their official dictionary of choice, Webster’s New World® College Dictionary represents the finest linguistic scholarship. For more information on the lexicographical process behind the dictionary, Editor in Chief Mike Agnes is available for interviews.

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