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  • The 2009 word of the year is "teabag," but the word of the decade has to be "wingnut"

    wingnut, a mentally deranged person; one who advocates extreme measures or changes
    wingnut, a mentally deranged person; one who advocates extreme measures or changes

    It's time once again to name the word of the year, and since we're coming up to 2010, it's also time to pick the word of the decade. The word of the year for 2009 is "teabag"; but the word of the first decade of the new millennium has to be "wingnut."

    The New Oxford American Dictionary just named "unfriend" its Word of the Year, defining it, "to remove someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook." Unfriending has become the thing to do to your ex. Just recently, Lou Dobbs unfriended CNN, and Sarah Palin unfriended John McCain and the entire 2008 Republican Presidential Campaign.

    Unfriend isn't a new word, as this 17th-century example from the Oxford English Dictionary illustrates: "I hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Unfriended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us" (1659). 1659 -- which is exactly 350 years ago -- was the year that Oliver Cromwell's son Richard, another unpopular politician who quit his job in the middle of his term, resigned as Lord Protector of England in a snit and immediately unfriended the entire English Parliament, a feat which British Prime Minister Gordon Brown almost managed to repeat in 2009. 

    2009 is a year characterized by negativity, and while unfriend is a negative word, it's hardly pessimistic enough to represent the extreme negativity that characterized politics, the economy, and events in general in 2009. To me, teabag, an even more negative word, better exemplifies the annus miserabilis that was.

    Teabagger is actually one of the Oxford's runner-up words of the year: "a person, who protests President Obama's tax policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations known as 'Tea Party' protests (in allusion to the Boston Tea Party of 1773)."

    CNBC's Rick Santelli calls for a Chicago Tea Party to protest the bailout

    On Feb. 19, 2009, CNBC's Rick Santelli called for a Chicago Tea Party the following July to protest a government bailout which, despites his fears, actually managed to turn the economy around

    As the tea party movement grew in response to the government's efforts to reverse the economy's downward spiral, it began calling for protestors to "teabag D.C.," by which they meant, send teabags to the government.

    reteaparty.com calls on protestors to

    In March, fairly unbalanced FOX News publicized the America's Tea Party movement that urged viewers to "tea bag D.C."

    And since many tea party protests were scheduled for tax day, April 15, teabagging got a lot of media play in March and April:

    retea.com asks protestors on April 1, 2009, to

    Unfortunately for the tax protest movement, the tea bag wasn't invented until the early 1900s, so the colonists protesting the British tax on tea had to throw chests of loose tea, not individual tea bags, into Boston harbor. Worse still, it turned out that the 2009 tax rebels were unaware that the verb tea bag is a slang term for a sexual activity that isn't typically espoused by family-values voters. Critics of the tax protesters were delighted to point out this delicious ambiguity, but the right wing quickly dropped the verb tea bag from their publicity campaigns, and the ultra-conservative blogger Michelle Malkin was outraged when Oxford connected teabagger with the tea party movement, sniffing, "People who make a living in words should really get a clue about the words they purport to define for the rest of the world." However, as the lexicographical trail shows, Oxford was the one with the clue, not Malkin.

    Wingnuts like Malkin, who make their living by redefining reality, are the reason why wingnut is my choice for word of the decade. Merriam-Webster records the slang use of wingnut as "a mentally deranged person" and "one who advocates extreme measures or changes."

    The first decade of this century seems both deranged and extreme, so it's no surprise that wingnuts began influencing it from the start, replacing reasoned debate with shrill rants. Wingnuts stole the Florida vote in 2000, blundered into Iraq, then scuttled the economy. Swiftboaters peddled disinformation about the 2004 election; birthers challenged the legitimacy of the Obama presidency; and opponents of health care reform raised the specter of imaginary death panels while clinging to Medicare, pretending that it's not public-option health insurance.

    It's easy to identify wingnuts. They're the ones who shout, "You lie," when someone's telling the truth. They're the ones who complain when dictionaries define words in ways they disagree with. And they're the ones who'll scream most loudly when tea bag and wingnut win word-of-the-year and word-of-the-decade designation, though it's their actions and their words that are being recognized.

    And regardless of anyone's position on the political spectrum, unless the forces of reasoned and civil discourse replace the extremist language spun by the primarily right-threaded wingnuts, wingnut could easily become the word of 2010 as well, if not the word of the century, or even the millennium.



spencers@illinois.edu Nov 19, 2009 8:49 am
Great post, Dennis ... and funny. Reminds me of a scene in John Waters' _Pecker_.
peter.england@ttu.edu Nov 23, 2009 8:47 am
Third paragraph from end: "Swifboaters" [sic] misspelled. Though I'm a conservative, "right-threaded wingnuts" made my day! There's little that does more to emphasize the power of rhetoric than the wingnuts who have realized that their words really do redefine reality. Of course, their immature insouciance is what moves their words from discourse to danger.

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