Hashtag voted 2012 word of the year over fiscal cliff, Gangnam Style

Other Word of the Year finalists: marriage equality, YOLO, binders (as in full of women), and legitimate rape. Photo: yoursocialmove.com

SAN DIEGO, January 5, 2013 – The word “hashtag” emerged as the 2012 Word of the Year in the 23rd annual words of the year vote on Friday, January 4 by the American Dialect Society.

Hashtag’s hard fought victory came over stiff competition including marriage equality, fiscal cliff, Gangnam Style, YOLO, binders (as in full of women), 47 percent, and legitimate rape.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “hashtagrefers to the practice used on Twitter for marking topics or making commentary by means of a hash symbol (#) followed by a word or phrase.

ADS Executive Secretary Allan Metcalf of MacMurray College said in a news release, “This was the year when the hashtag became a ubiquitous phenomenon in online talk,” Zimmer said. “In the Twittersphere and elsewhere, hashtags have created instant social trends, spreading bite-sized viral messages on topics ranging from politics to pop culture.”

Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item” — not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year.

This is the third time in four years a technology based word has won. The word “app” won in 2010, and “tweet” in 2009. The winner in 2011 was “occupy.” The word of the decade for 2001-2010 was “google.” See the full list here.

K-Pop and YouTube sensation Psy was everywhere with his Gangnam Style in 2012, including in the English language.

In addition to hashtag, there were votes in specific category much like the Oscars. Hashtag is the word equivalent of Best Picture; the following are the best acting, writing, and craft categories in the wordy world.

Hands down, my personal favorite is “gate lice,” winner in the Most Creative category. There are gate lice in other venues, too. I’m not much for people invading my personal space.


Winner: Hashtag

Other nominees were: 47 percent: portion of the population that does not pay federal income tax; fiscal cliff: threat of spending cuts and tax increases looming over end-of-year budget negotiations; Gangnam style: the trendy style of Seoul’s Gangnam district, as used in the Korean pop song of the same name; #hashtag: a word or phrase preceded by a hash symbol (#), used on Twitter to mark a topic or make a commentary; marriage equality: legal recognition of same-sex marriage; and YOLO: acronym for “You Only Live Once,” often used sarcastically or self-deprecatingly.


Winner: -(po)calypse, -(ma)geddon, hyperbolic combining forms for various catastrophes

Other nominees were beardruff: dandruff from one’s beard; hate-watching: continuing to follow a television show despite having an aversion to it; and YOLO.

Winner: gate lice, airline passengers who crowd around a gate waiting to board.

Other nominees were alpacalypse: the Mayan apocalypse predicted for Dec. 21, 2012 (alpaca + -lypse); dancelexia: inability to pull off dance moves (such as misspelling “YMCA”); and mansplaining: a man’s condescending explanation to a female audience.


Winner: legitimate rape,  the type of rape that Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin claimed rarely results in pregnancy.

Other nominees were Frankenstorm: term for Hurricane Sandy’s hybrid storm system (after Frankenstein’s monster); HD: abbreviation for “high-definition,” used for things that could not be high-definition; and feels: slangy shortening of “feelings.”


Winner: legitimate rape takes its second category.

Other nominees were Dunlop effect: when one’s stomach protrudes over ill-fitting pants; slut-shaming: attacking a woman for socially stigmatized sexual activity; and butt-chugging: an alcohol enema, used in college fraternity hazing rituals.

(Did anyone else find this an especially disturbing category? Eww).


Winner (by a landslide): self-deportation, the policy of encouraging illegal immigrants to return voluntarily to their home countries.

Other nominees were disruptive, destroying existing business models; Gray Thursday, name given to Thanksgiving as a shopping day before Black Friday; ratchet: slang term originally referring to “urban divas” now used to mean “ghetto;” and evolution, change of opinion.


Winner: marriage equality: legal recognition of same-sex marriage 156

Other nominees were fiscal cliff; superstorm: an unusually large and destructive storm, such as Hurricane Sandy; MOOC: acronym for “massive open online course;” and big data: large collections of digital information used for revealing behavioral insights.


Winner: a tie between phablet: mid-sized electronic device between a smartphone and a tablet; and YOLO.

Other nominees were cray-cray: slangy shortening and reduplication of “crazy;” Gangnam style; Windows Metro: name originally used for the Windows 8 operating system; and meggings: a blend for “male leggings.”

No kidding, I write for a living and I’ve never heard phablet.

The Presidential election yielded some marvelous additions to the English language in 2012, most of them unintentional.

ELECTION WORDS (a new category for 2012)

Winner: binders (full of women): term used by Romney in the second presidential debate to describe the resumes of female job candidates that he consulted as governor of Massachusetts.

Other nominees in an especially strong category were 47 percent: portion of the population that does not pay federal income tax; Etch-a-Sketch: metaphor of reinvention used by Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom; Eastwooding: photo fad inspired by Clint Eastwood’s unscripted speech at the RNC; Romney/Obama: names of candidates used for blends (Obamaloney, Obamageddon, Romnesia, Romney Hood); and malarkey: nonsense, empty talk (as used by Biden in the vice-presidential debate).

The vote is the longest-running such vote anywhere and ADS proudly points out it’s the only one not tied to commercial interests. Members in the 124-year-old organization include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining.

Did ADS miss an obvious candidate? Do you have any early predictions for Word of the Year in 2013? Let us know in the Comments section.


Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News LLC when quoting from or linking to this story.   

Copyright © 2013 by Falcon Valley Group




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Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.


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