Refugee was named word of the year Thursday by a language monitoring group that cited the political storm it created when used to describe the hundreds of thousands in New Orleans who fled Hurricane Katrina.
The nonprofit Global Language Monitor named refugee to top its annual list. It was followed by tsunami, Katrina, pope and “Chinglish,” which describes the “new second language of China.” “Out of the Mainstream” was named phrase of the year and “OK” the most universally used word.
Global Language Monitor head Paul JJ Payack said refugee, which was was used five times more often than other words to describe those made homeless by Katrina, triggered a debate on race and political correctness.
Civil Rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson said using the term to describe the mostly poor and black citizens of New Orleans made homeless by Katrina was “inaccurate, unfair and racist” and implied that those using the term were prepared to ”see them as other than American.”
President Bush opted to use “displaced citizens,” saying that “the people we’re talking about are not refugees. They are Americans.” Several major newspapers dropped using the word and others said they would use it cautiously.
Language expert William Safire said the word more often than not is used to denote a person “who seeks refuge or asylum in a foreign country to escape religious or political persecution,” rather than a person who simply seeks refuge from a storm.
Tsunami, from the Japanese word for harbor wave, placed second on the list of words. Payack noted that few would have recognized the word before the Christmas Day 2004 disaster in Southeast Asia.
‘Pope’ also makes the list
Third was “Poppa/Papa/Pope” to mark the death of John Paul II, followed by “Chinglish,” “H5N1,” the name for looming avian flu pandemic, “recaille,” a French word for riff-raff that officials used to describe rioters in France. That was followed by Katrina and “wiki,” from the Hawaiian for “quick” and now embraced on the Internet as a term for collaboration, as in the Web site Wikipedia.
Ninth was SMS, or “Short Message Service,” to connote the more than one trillion text messages in 2005, and 10th was ”insurgent,” which Payack described as a politically neutral term used to describe enemy combatants.
“Out of the Mainstream,” used to describe the ideology of a political opponent, was the phrase of year, followed by bird flu/avian flu; politically correct, which Payack said has now emerged as a worldwide phenomenon; and North/South divide, which describes global “haves and have nots.”
Also included are the phrase list are “string theory,” the idea that the universe is constructed of 11 pulsating planes of existence; “jumping the couch,” to denote losing emotional control and made popular by Tom Cruise’s encounter with a couch on the Oprah television show; and “deferred success,” a new way of describing failure.