Even the American Dialect Society knows how risky home mortgages are these days. The group of wordsmiths chose "subprime" as 2007's Word of the Year at its annual convention Friday.
"'Subprime' has been around with bankers for awhile, but now everyone is talking about 'subprime,'" said Wayne Glowka, a spokesman for the group and a dean at Reinhardt College in Waleska, Ga. "It's affecting all kinds of people in all kinds of places."
About 80 members of the organization spent two days debating the merits of runners-up "Facebook," "green," "Googleganger" and "waterboarding" before voting for an adjective that means "a risky or less than ideal loan, mortgage or investment."
The choice signifies the public's concern for a "deepening mortgage crisis," the society said in a statement.
"Facebook," as a noun, verb or adjective, was popular with younger linguists, Glowka said.
Several people lobbied for "green," which "designates environmental concern," but the term has been around for years, he said. The word topped the 2007 "Most Useful" category, one of numerous subgroups the society chooses.
Many 'Google' words considered
The group also decided that although "waterboarding," an interrogation technique that simulates drowning, gained a lot of attention during recent attorney general confirmation hearings, it was a bigger deal in 2004, Glowka said.
But what's a "Googleganger?"
A play on "doppelganger," the word is "a person with your name who shows up when you Google yourself," according to the society.
Glowka said he assessed many Google-related words.
"Just Google 'Google' and you'll turn them up," he said. The ghostly double of a word won the 2007 "Most Creative" designation.
As for "subprime," Glowka said it is an odd word — at least as far as linguists are concerned.
The prefix "sub" translates roughly to "below the standard," while "prime" means something close to "the best."
So, according to Glowka, the word really means "far below the best."
"People were saying that students were referring to their tests, `I'm going to subprime this; I'm going to mess it up,'" he said.
The American Dialect Society, founded in 1889, comprises linguists, grammarians, historians and scholars, among others. The society began choosing words of the year in 1990 for fun, not in an official capacity to induct words into the English language.
In 2006, the organization chose "plutoed," which means "to be demoted or devalued."