The Most Memorable Words of 2011


Every year, the American Dialect Society chooses a word of the year — and they’re not the only ones. This week, we found out that Merriam-Webster has already chosen their own word of the year: “pragmatic,” which we’re not sure reflects the state of the nation. The American Dialect Society chooses their word of the year based on the following criteria: the word must be “demonstrably new or newly popular in 2011, widely and/or prominently used in 2011, indicative or reflective of the popular discourse and not a peeve or a complaint about overuse or misuse.” They also stipulate that “Multi-word compounds or phrases that act as stand-alone lexical items are also welcomed.” To give you a better idea: last year, the world they picked was “app.” We’ve come up with a list of a few of our nominees for possible words of the year, but of course there are many more — let us know which words you would nominate in the comments!

Image via Mediaite


Already considered by Ben Zimmer, the chair of the American Dialect Society’s new words committee, as the top contender for word of the year — and with good reason — “occupy” definitely captures the spirit of the year, and has been a surprisingly mutable term (“I’m occupying my couch this weekend”). It is “an old word that has been invested with new meanings,” Zimmer told NPR. “It has become a call to action itself.” We agree, and also nominate the phrase “99%” for its similar import.


Clicktivism — activism or charity enacted from the comfort of your home by clicking on something on the Internet — became huge in 2011. For instance, the most retweeted tweet of 2011, according to Twitter, was this one, with which Wendy’s promised to send 50 cents to children in foster care with every retweet, ultimately raising $50,000. That’s probably the best use of Twitter we’ve ever heard of.

“Tiger Mother”

Early in 2011, the country seemed to explode with talk about Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother , with critics and consumers expressing everything from praise to awe to disgust at her extreme parenting methods. Soon the phrase became a buzzword among parents and children alike, weighing the options and advice contained within (or just contained within the reviews). We feel like literally everyone had to talk to their mothers about it, but maybe that’s just us.

“Tiger Blood”/”Winning”

Apparently, tigers were big this year — and so was Charlie Sheen, whose very public meltdown provided a mountain of catchphrases for the voyeuristic public, our favorites of which are the creepy-sounding “tiger blood” and the ever-useful “winning.” In fact, in Twitter’s roundup of the year’s most-popular hashtags, #tigerblood ranked second only to #egypt. That makes us feel better about ourselves, but only slightly.

“Arab Spring”

On a political front, 2011 was the year of “Arab Spring,” a name for the enormous wave of demonstrations and protests in the Arab world that began in the very last weeks of 2010 and continues on today. The surge as it manifested itself was perhaps only possible in today’s age of technology and social media, which played a crucial role in organization, awareness and popularization — remember the Egyptian man that named his newborn daughter “Facebook“? Only in 2011, folks.


For the uninitiated, FOMO means “fear of missing out,” specifically as relates to the feelings we get when trying to metabolize the millions of pieces of data we take in from the Internet every day. As The New York Times points out, somewhat ridiculously, when someone begins to feel inadequate because of what she sees her friends doing on Facebook, “her knee-jerk reaction is often to post an account of a cool thing she has done, or to upload a particularly fun picture from her weekend. This may make her feel better — but it can generate FOMO in another unsuspecting person.” People of the world: stop generating FOMO.

Image via IBTimes


As we all know, planking is an internet trend (lying flat in weird places and putting pictures of it on the Internet) that not only shot to prominence this year, but spawned a million offshoots, such as “owling” and “Tebowing.” Though planking itself, as far as we’re concerned, is a negligible trend, the greater idea that a community can be formed by unrelated people all over the world by posting pictures online is a concept that just keeps on growing.


“LMS,” or as it’s more frequently seen, “lms,” the Facebook acronym for “like my status,” is apparently the fastest growing acronym used on the site. The trend was helped along by this ridiculous viral video, which at first we kind of hated, and then we kind of loved. Though an acronym on Facebook seems a little silly to think about as a memorable word of the year, we think it says quite a bit about how our culture is hurtling ever more quickly towards the commodification of social media nods — it doesn’t matter anymore how many friends you have, now what matters is how many friends you can get to publicly, um, like your status.

“Bunga Bunga”

Ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s so-called “bunga bunga” sex parties became famous in 2011 in the midst of his many scandals and ultimate resignation. Maybe it’s just the way the phrase rolls of the tongue, but we don’t think anyone will forget about it anytime soon.


A moniker for the false humility exhibited by celebrities and other people on Twitter coined by comedian Harris Wittels, this is another of Ben Zimmer’s favorite words of the year. Although perhaps not as ubiquitous as “occupy,” it does speak to the phenomenon of instant-access celebrity culture and the Twitter community’s tendency for one-upmanship.