In early January, the internet--or at least a considerable part of the internet--was buzzing with the news that the American Dialect Society's 2014 Word of the Year isn't a word. It's actually a hashtag: #blacklivesmatter.
"Wait a second," wrote the Detroit Free Press, "That's not a word."
Time observed (not without a degree of snarkiness), "Choosing a hashtag as a 'word' of the year is sure to drive some traditional types to snap their bifocals in half. Some still furrow their brows at the mere idea of selecting a phrase as a 'word' of the year ('because technically a phrase is not a word,' etc.). Linguistically, that makes the Society’s pick the edgiest of the bunch."
Somewhat more diplomatically, The Guardian explains, "The society interprets its 'word of the year' in the sense of a 'vocabulary item,' enabling it to consider phrases as well as words."
Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS new words commitee, explained the choice to the New York Times: “While #blacklivesmatter may not fit the traditional definition of a word, it demonstrates how powerfully a hashtag can convey a succinct social message. . . . Language scholars are paying attention to the innovative linguistic force of hashtags."
For further media commentary, check out these recent items:
- The announcement on the ADS website: http://www.americandialect.org/2014-word-of-the-year-is-blacklivesmatter
- Anne Curzan's Lingua Franca blog in The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2015/01/12/woty2014/
- The Guardian's news story, "#blacklivesmatter voted 2014's word of the year in US":
- Jennifer Schuessler's Artsbeat blog in The New York Times: artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/10/dialect-society-names-its-word-of-the-year-blacklivesmatter/
- Katy Steinmetz's reportage in Time: http://time.com/3662593/2014-word-of-year-blacklivesmatter/
- The Detroit Free Press's story, "This word of the year is more of a movement": http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/stephen-henderson/2015/01/12/word-of-the-year/21641065/
- The digital media outlet Quartz's story, "The American Dialect Society's word of the year is not a word": http://qz.com/324986/the-american-dialect-societys-word-of-the-year-is-a-hashtag/
- Taylor Lewis's report in Essence--"It's not a conventional winner, but we'll take it!": http://www.essence.com/2015/01/12/blacklivesmatter-2014-word-year-american-dialect-society
- Laura Hibbs McKenzie's report on Refinery, "2014 Word of the Year Revealed and It's Important": http://www.refinery29.com/2015/01/80572/word-of-the-year-2014
- And Ben Zimmer's "In a First, the Word of the Year is a Hashtag: '#blacklivesmatter" on Vocabulary.com: http://www.vocabulary.com/articles/wordroutes/in-a-first-the-word-of-the-year-is-a-hashtag-blacklivesmatter/