Saturday, December 26, 2009

Buzzwords for 2009

Grant Barrett's Buzzwords for 2009:


Undue worry in response to swine flu. Includes unnecessary acts like removing nonessential kisses from Mexican telenovelas and the mass slaughter of pigs in Egypt.


An atheist. Usually derogatory.


A person who believes that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and therefore can’t be president.

bonus tax

A proposed levy on bonuses given to employees of companies that received federal bailout money. Related terms included botax, a proposed levy on cosmetic procedures. It would be used to help pay for health care reform and is a play on Botox, a trade name for a substance used to smooth skin wrinkles. There was also cow tax, what critics call a proposed fee for methane emissions. Would it apply to methane-emitting cows, they wonder?

car tone

Music or ambient noise proposed for use by electric cars, whose quietness otherwise makes them go unnoticed by pedestrians.

Cash for Clunkers

A government program in which older automobiles are exchanged for pollution credits or rebates on newer and more fuel-efficient models. First popular in 1990 but resurgent in 2009.


The intertwined economies of China and the United States, which together dominate the world economy. Popularized by Niall Ferguson in his book “The Ascent of Money.”

conflict minerals

Gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum, widely used in electronic devices and commonly mined in politically unstable countries or regions. Related to conflict diamonds.

crash blossom

A headline that can be misconstrued, like “Shark Attacks Puzzle Experts.” Will Shortz is not in jeopardy; the sharks are just confounding scientists.

death panel

A supposed committee of doctors and/or bureaucrats who would decide which patients receive treatment, ostensibly leaving the rest to die. Also deather, someone who believes erroneously that the government would have death panels under health care reform.

Dracula sneeze

Covering the mouth with the crook of the elbow when sneezing, like Dracula hiding his face with a cape.

drive like a Cullen

To drive like a bat out of hell, like a member of the Cullen family in the “Twilight” vampire books by Stephenie Meyer.

Government Motors

A nickname for General Motors, which is now majority owned by the federal government.

El Stiffo

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California said he wasn’t El Stiffo, meaning a colorless character, after he was criticized for brandishing a large knife in a video promoting the sale of state property to raise money.

gaymarry, gay-marry

To marry someone of the same sex. Also used hyperbolically to mean to form an unconventional relationship, as in, “I love my new cellphone so much I want to gay-marry it.”

Great Recession

A reference to the current economic downturn. Used at least a few times for every recession since 1980, but never with such vigor as now.

green shoots

Signs of an economic recovery or of a company’s financial turnaround.


A pronunciation of H1N1, the swine flu virus.

I’mma let you finish

Part of Kanye West’s interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, a widely popular joke meme on the Internet.


Jean leggings.


A recession that affects men more than women. Also hecession.


An exclamation used disruptively or nonsensically by young people. From Beaker of “The Muppet Show.”


A person who perpetrates a Ponzi scheme smaller than Bernie Madoff’s.


An inexpensive portable computer, usually smaller than a laptop but larger than a smartphone, intended mainly for use with the Internet.


Nadya Suleman, who gave birth to octuplets in January.

orphan books

Volumes still in copyright but out of print and unavailable for sale, and whose copyright holders cannot be found. Rose in 2007 but peaked this year with the fierce discussion over the proposed Google Books settlement.

public option

A government-run health insurance program proposed as part of the health care legislation making its way through Congress.


The sending of sexual messages or pictures by mobile telephone.

social distancing

Staying away from other people so as not to catch or spread the flu. Common since late 2005 but surging in 2009.

swine flu party

A gathering held so people can be infected by a mild form of swine flu, in theory creating antibodies against more dangerous forms. Such a practice is universally discouraged by doctors.

Tea Party

An organized gathering of antitax, antigovernment and/or anti-Obama protestors. Also teabagger, a derogatory name for attendees of Tea Parties, probably coined in allusion to a sexual practice.


A person who believes the federal government is mostly illegal because it usurps rights that belong to the states, in violation of the 10th Amendment, which reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

torture memos

Bush administration documents that secretly authorized the torture of suspected terrorists.


A digital book that includes some video in its text.


Someone who believes that the earth is jeopardized by becoming warmer. Shortened from global warmist and used mainly by people who are skeptical about global warming.

wise Latina woman

A term used by Judge Sonia Sotomayor in a speech before she was a Supreme Court justice, suggesting to some observers that she believed ethnicity and gender had a role in determining law.


The temporary name of a newly found element, Uub for short. It comes from the Latin for the element’s number, 112.

Grant Barrett is the editorial director of the online dictionary and co-host of the syndicated public radio show “A Way With Words.”


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