It Begins!

November 15, 2007

I thought I was safe. With Black Friday still a week away, I thought there was still time to run and hide before instant nostalgia wrought its annual “Best of” lists. But, sadly, this can no longer be a time for pastism (or futurism–no matter how good its recipes are); I can no longer take refuge in late ’80s cinema. Now is the time to be a reactionary.

The Oxford word of the year: locavore.

We kind of talked about this word before; really, I wondered at its noun form (I still support locavdom), but I never assumed that the word had anything other than elite adherents. It certainly isn’t on everybody’s lips like last year’s “word”, “carbon neutral.” Indeed, nothing in locavore’s history suggests proletarian support. From the Oxford website:

“‘Locavore’ was coined two years ago by a group of four women in San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. Other regional movements have emerged since then, though some groups refer to themselves as “localvores” rather than “locavores.” However it’s spelled, it’s a word to watch. ”

Yet the word’s supporters are eloquent and vocal. Commenter “Geoff Stief” argues,

“Locavore, though not destined to be widely use in the short term, will be a more common term as society realizes the bodily harm that comes from eating imported, pesticide filled and even mass produced domestic, hormone and antibiotic filled foods. Each movement needs a grounding of standardized terminology and this is good first step”

I find it hard to argue with Mr. Stief, especially since he spells his name correctly.

A glance at the runners-up indicates that the decision makers at Oxford were completely out of touch with society. Of the finalists, only, “cougar” (which they define with a link to the wikipedia article on “age disparity in sexual relationships“) is in active usage. Indeed, a scant year ago, America, and the New York Times, was still using MILF, even when the context would imply that the objectifier was an older woman.

Lexicography is admittedly a niche field, but surely there must be some way to democratize the process. After all, the word of the year should be something that reflects a broader swathe of society. Perhaps the good folks at Oxford should ask the fine folks in the blogosphere. Blogger Michelle Malkin suggests, amongst others, “craptacular” which certainly sums up the spirit of the year. At the very least, Oxford should take a look at urbandictionary to see how others view the word. “Locavore” has only one definition on ud, while “cougar” has 43, including this (helpful?) one:


A slang term used to describe an attractive older single woman.

There are alot of cougar’s here, its time to hunt!
Recent research has shown that there are alot of cougars in the south orange county area.

The task of picking the word of the year is no doubt a thankless one. Still, Oxford would be wise to select words with broader impacts or broader currency. Our pick: cougar.

6 Responses to “It Begins!”

  1. A more democratic word-of-the-year vote, and the oldest one, is that held by the American Dialect Society. Nominations are welcome from the public at While I have been involved with the Oxford University Press American word-of-the-year vote in past years, it is still, after all, a function of publicity and marketing. Of course, lexicography is not only a niche field, it’s a clubby one: I’m a former OUP employee, now an OUP freelancer, and a vice president of the American Dialect Society, and I have done my *own* words-of-the-year list for the New York Times for the past three years. You can imagine the difficult of coming up with three different nomination lists. 🙂

  2. PS: I wrote about “cougar” for a column in the Malaysian Star last month. “Cougar” peaked a few years ago, probably around 2002 after Valerie Gibson published her book.

  3. dailysalad Says:

    Hi Grant, thanks for the comment. I definitely appreciate the struggle of having to come up with three different word of the year lists. That’s a lot of obscurity–even for a lexicographer of your stature. I’m not sure that “cougar” peaked a few years ago, but then I guess that depends on what you consider peaking. Over the last few years, the words has gone from underground cool to boring everyday language, and this was really the year where the transformation became complete, when the word popped up on every television show and in every article. It was the year when cougar attained critical mass, something that I don’t believe locavore has done yet, and something that should be a prerequisite for a word of the year. Thanks for the link to the article; we’ll try to follow your exploits!

  4. […] College Dictionary had already named their word of the year. In fact, this happened back before it all began, way back on the cusp of […]

  5. […] When last we left the word of the year dispute, YS had successfully slain the dragon of “locavore” and invalidated the standing of the Webster’s New World College Dictionary to rule on […]

  6. […] The first group, a great mix of populism and elitism (how of the people can you really be, Grant Barrett, when you leave comments on Yesterday’s Salad?), always seems to select a word that people […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: