15 ottobre 2012

Recession makes us richer.. in words

The only one who is gaining benefits from the recession is the English language: as we are growing poorer, the English language is growing richer.

The latest trend in the most famous online dictionaries (Collins, Merriam-Webster , Cambridge, etc) is to stay current with language changes, word usage, slangs, jargons, and neologisms.

Each year the dictionaries add new words that have been accepted by the common parlance and competitions are being launched each year in order to find the word of the year.

The “word of the year” competition, abbreviated WOTY, is a competition for voting the most important word o in the public sphere during a specific year.

In the last five years, the list of new, officially recognized words by Merriam Webster’s WOTY include a number of terms that are a true product of our times.


  • In 2008 the word was bailout, “a rescue from financial distress.”
  • In 2009, staycation, “a vacation spent at home or nearby.”
  • In 2010, austerity, “enforced or extreme economy.”
  • In 2011, boomerang child, “a young adult who returns to live at his or her family home especially for financial reasons.”
  • Finally, in 2012 underwater, “a mortgage loan for which more is owed than the worth of the property.”


This competition proves how words are our windows to the world. These five words are a reflection of our concerns and worries since the beginning of the “Great Recession”.

Recession language isn’t a new phenomenon. Thanks to the Great Depression we have terms like: dirt poor, and baloney (to mean ridiculous, not the mystery sandwich meat). Even the term "depression" has been attributed to Herbert Hoover, who is thought to have wanted to avoid using the more common, but more alarming terms "panic" or "crisis" to describe what subsequently became known as the Great Depression.

When we are creating a new catchword, we're controlling the situation for ourselves. We attempt to define and control and make sense of the world.

In particular, "clever words such as "staycation" help people approach grim realities - like not being able to afford a vacation -- through humor”, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

"When people start becoming playful with language, that's a coping mechanism," she said.

Source: Do you speak recession-ese?

Read other recession posts