Time, “The Absolute Final, Last Word of the Year: Because”

January 8, 2014

Katy Steinmetz, “The Absolute Final, Last Word of the Year: Because” (Time Newsfeed, Jan. 8, 2014)

Crowning a word of the year is so hot these days. An increasing number of dictionaries and websites each churn out their specimens, trying to encapsulate the zeitgeist—or at least get some good, free PR. But one group was anointing a “WOTY” long before it was cool: the American Dialect Society, a cadre of linguists, lexicographers and other lexically-oriented souls that holds their big annual meeting in the first days of January each year.

A few days ago in Minneapolis, attendees made cases for slashObamacare and selfie. Yet the votes ultimately came in for because—not the boring old conjunction because, but a new form that is illustrating language’s ability to keep it fresh. They voted for the because that a headline writer uses when he pens, “The Senate changes its rules, because politics.” Rather than being followed by the traditional of or a whole clause, this because is typically followed by one word, be it noun, verb, adjective or something else. Because nachos. Because want. Because science. It’s punchy, irreverent and such a different kind of usage that linguists don’t even know what to call it. “We may be talking about a new class of words,” says Ben Zimmer, a sociolinguist who presided over the voting.

Requiring a cumbersome explanation is clearly small potatoes next to that kind of innovation when it comes to winning votes among the erudite. “You get a bunch of linguists in a room and say, ‘Hey, look at this old function word that’s being used in brand new ways,’ and that piques their interest,” says Zimmer, executive producer of Vocabulary.com. “It has a kind of child-like quality to it as well, that makes it very playful, intentionally tweaking grammar in a way that kids often do.”

Read the rest here. (Related Word Routes column)

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