staff and news service reports
updated 1/7/2011 9:30:01 PM ET 2011-01-08T02:30:01

A term beloved by techies and geeks has nabbed the title of word of the year from the American Dialect Society.

"App" — a shortening of the word "application," referring to computer software — was picked in a vote by linguists meeting Friday in Pittsburgh. It got 69 votes, defeating "nom" — a chat-, tweet-, and text-friendly syllable that connotes "yummy food" — in a runoff.

In the finals, "app" defeated "junk," "WikiLeaks" and "trend," in addition to "nom."

Friday's vote came at a Pittsburgh hotel ballroom during the national conference of the Linguistic Society of America, an umbrella group that includes the Dialect Society.

"Some years there's a very clear choice," said Allan Metcalf, the Dialect Society's executive secretary.

In 2001, for instance, the Word of the Year was 9/11.

"I think this past year there wasn't anything clearly dominant," Metcalf said. "But there's no question 'app' is a very powerful word."

Though the "Word Of The Year" is perhaps the best known item on the national conference agenda, it's hardly the most serious. The program includes discussion of such subjects as school curriculum and raising education standards.

And that's one reason Metcalf said the "Word Of The Year" isn't universally popular among the conferees.

"But, on the other hand, it attracts a lot of attention to our work," he said.

Anyone could nominate a "Word of the Year" by e-mail or Twitter, using links on

"Tweet" and "Google" were last year's "Word of the Year" and "Word of the Decade."

As with app, tech terms have been among the most popular since the group started the competition in 1990. Some previous winners include "millennium bug" (1997), "information superhighway" (1993), and "web" (word of the 1990s).

Web words are so popular that even the techie prefix "e" — as in e-mail — won in 1998.

When the Internet doesn't hold sway, current events or politics tend to dominate. Listed among nominees on the group's website were "tea bagger," "Palinism" and the Palinism "refudiate." On Friday, voters chose to nix political terms altogether, including "Obamacare" and "mama grizzly" — yes, yet another Palinism, referring to conservative women who are protective of their families.

The inaugural winner, in 1990, was Bushlips, defined as "insincere political rhetoric" an apparent reference to President George H.W. Bush's broken "Read my lips, no new taxes!" promise. Chad, as in "hanging," was 2000's word after the contested victory by Bush's son, and 2002's winner was also taken from a pair of Bush lips: WMD, as in "weapons of mass destruction."

BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico spawned many 2010 nominees, but none made the final cut, not even "spillion," defined as an immeasurable number, in reference to the billions of gallons of oil that spilled into the waters.

Here were nominees the society listed in some of its categories:

Most useful

  • fat-finger: Verb: to mistype, as by accidentally striking more than one key on a keyboard/pad.
  • junk: junk shot (attempt to fix BP oil spill), junk status (Greece’s credit rating), don’t touch my junk (protest against TSA pat-down procedure).
  • nom: Onomatopoetic form connoting eating. Can be used as an interjection or noun to refer to delicious food.
  • vuvuzela: South African plastic trumpet used by fans at World Cup matches.

Most creative

  • -sauce: Intensive suffix, as in awesome-sauce ‘great’ and lame-sauce ‘stupid’.
  • spillion: An immense number, especially of gallons of oil in the Gulf spill.
  • spillionaire: Person made rich by money from BP’s spill cleanup fund.
  • phoenix firm: A troubled company that re-emerges under a new name.
  • prehab: Pre-emptive enrollment in a rehab facility to prevent relapse of an abuse problem.

Most unnecessary

  • refudiate: Blend of refute and repudiate used by Sarah Palin on Twitter.
  • ironic moustache: Facial hair worn as a statement of retro hipsterdom.
  • star whacker: Imagined celebrity killer (alleged by actor Randy Quaid and his wife).

Most likely to succeed

  • hacktivism: Using computer hacking skills as a form of political or social activism.
  • -pad: Combining form used by iPad and other tablet computers (ViewPad, WindPad, etc.).
  • telework: Term used at federal level for work by an employee away from the office.
  • trend: Verb: to exhibit a burst of online buzz.

Least likely to succeed

  • fauxhemian: Winner of a Gawker poll to replace the term “hipster.”
  • skyaking: Jumping out of a plane in a kayak.
  • top kill / top hat / junk shot: Various failed techniques to fix the BP oil spill.

Election terms

  • Aqua Buddha: Fictitious deity in collegiate scandal involving Rand Paul, raised during his Kentucky Senate campaign.
  • mama grizzly: Sarah Palin’s term for a fiercely conservative female candidate.
  • man up: Exhortation to be responsible or “act like a man,” used by Sharron Angle against Harry Reid in Nevada Senate race.
  • Obamacare: Pejorative term for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Fan words

  • belieber: A fan of pop singer Justin Bieber ( Bieber + believer )
  • gleek: A fan of the TV show “Glee” ( Glee + geek )
  • little monster: A fan of pop singer Lady Gaga, so called by the singer herself.
  • Twihard: A fan of the “Twilight” books and movies.
  • Yat Dat: A native-born fan of the New Orleans Saints.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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