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Proof of Literary Greatness?

GLM Comment :  We think not.  But perhaps an unexpected ability to fashion an English Sentence.

One week ago today, the MoJo DC bureau was consumed by the arrival of Sarah Palin’s emails covering the first half of her half-term as Alaska’s governor. As David Corn detailed, there were plenty of interesting discoveries—a less than chilly attitude toward climate change, for instance, and a sometimes obsessive attitude toward media critics (marginal and otherwise).

While we were poring over the documents, though, Michael McLaughlin of AOL’s Weird News was taking a different approach:

AOL Weird News brought samples to two writing analysts who independently evaluated 24,000 pages of the former governor’s emails. They came back in agreement that Palin composed her messages at an [8.5] level, an excellent score for a chief executive, they said…

“She’s very concise. She gives clear orders. Her sentences and punctuations are logical,” Payack said. “She has much more of a disciplined mind than she’s given credit for.”

Although it’s like comparing apples to oranges, Payack said that famous speeches like Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was a 9.1 and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” oration rated a 8.8 on the scale.

Having read several thousand pages of the Palin emails, I think apples and oranges might be a bit of an understatement here. But there’s also a bit of truth there: Palin’s written communications are noticeably more coherent than her efforts to explain herself verbally (witness: Paul Revere-gate).


John McWhorter on Palin’s ‘remarkedly lucid prose’


Palin’s Emails: What Her Remarkably Lucid Prose Says About the Art of Teaching Writi

  • John McWhorter
  • June 16, 2011 | 12:00 am

Sarah Palin’s emails are telling us something about remedial writing classes at our universities and colleges, and it’s not what you think. Call her defensive or parochial based on the cache of her spontaneous writings while serving as governor of Alaska, but

something easy to miss is that Palin, in contrast to her meandering, involuted speaking style, is a thoroughly competent writer—more so than a great many people most of us likely know, including college graduates.

Indeed, her facility in writing proves something one might be pardoned for supposing she was exaggerating about in Going Rogue, her autobiography, in which she limns a childhood portrait of herself as a bibliophilic sort of tot:

Reading was a special bond between my mother and me. Mom read aloud to me – poetry by Ogden Nash and the Alaska poet Robert Service, along with snippets of prose …. My siblings were better athletes, cuter and more sociable than I, and the only thing they had to envy about me was the special passion for reading that I shared with our mother.

That’s right, Sarah “you betcha” Palin was, of all things, a bookworm, excited to learn to spell “different” and winning a poetry contest for a poem about Betsy Ross. And as such, it is predictable that her emails would evidence such casually solid command of the language—even if her oral rendition of it is a different matter entirely.

Once we understand that, it leads to some serious questions, as posed by books getting buzz at present such as Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift and In the Basement of the Ivory Tower by the anonymous “Professor X.” How sensible is our assigning millions of freshmen each year to classes intended to teach them a skill so deeply rooted in unconscious facilitation at an early age?

To get a sense, it helps to see a few of these emails. Because email is written speech, it’s easy to miss artfulness in them. Yet, take this Palin passage: “Even CP has admitted locking up tax rates as Glenn suggests is unacceptable to the legislature, the Alaskan public, this administration, and the Constitution.”

The spelling is flawless—and unlikely to be completely a product of spell-check, which misses errors and often creates others. More to the point, she has an embedded clause (“locking up tax rates”) nested into a main one, with another clause “as Glenn suggests” nested within the embedded one. That’s good old-fashioned grammar school “syntax.” I have known plenty of people with B.A.s who could barely pull it off properly at gunpoint, and several others who would only bother to at gunpoint.

Equally graceful despite its mundane content: “Cowdery telling a kid what’s acceptable and what isn’t inside these four walls??? Puleeeze. A three-pound puppy vs. all the CBC crap that he helped dump around here?” You hear an actual human voice here. We tell some people “I can hear your voice in the way you write”—because it’s unusual for people to be able to “write” themselves. Palin is one of the people who can. [Read More.]


Palinpalooza: GLM analysis for Huffington Post

Sarah Palin’s Emails Written At 8th Grade Level — Better Than Some CEOs



The huge cache of Sarah Palin’s emails released Friday offered not only a chance to see what she was writing about during her uncompleted term as Alaska’s governor, but also an opportunity to see how well she writes.

AOL Weird News brought samples to two writing analysts who independently evaluated 24,000 pages of the former governor’s emails. They came back in agreement that Palin composed her messages at an eighth-grade level, an excellent score for a chief executive, they said.

“I’m a centrist Democrat, and would have loved to support my hunch that Ms. Palin is illiterate,” said2tor Chief Executive Officer John Katzman.

“However, the emails say something else. Ms. Palin writes emails on her Blackberry at a grade level of 8.5.

“If she were a student and showing me her work, I’d say ‘It’s fine, clear writing,'” he said, admitting that emails he wrote scored lower than Palin’s on the widely used Flesch-Kincaid readability test.

“She came in as a solid communicator,” said Paul J.J. Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor. The emails registered as an 8.2 on his version of the test. “That’s typical for a corporate executive.”

An example of Palin’s strongest writing came on Jul. 17, 2007 in an email to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell about the controversial Gravina Island Bridge, infamously called the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

“We cant afford it, the Feds won’t pay for it, the general populace isn’t placing it as a high priority … can you diplomatically express that?! Of course we want infrastructure — and this is NOT a “bridge to nowhere” (that is so offensive), but as it stands today with the highest-cost bridge design selected by the Ketchikan community, we need to find a lower-cost alternative [if] a bridge will be built.”

“She’s very concise. She gives clear orders. Her sentences and punctuations are logical,” Payack said. “She has much more of a disciplined mind than she’s given credit for.” [Read More.]


Those in charge decide which words matter




.By Michael Skapinker

Is “aarrghh” a word? Not if you are playing Scrabble with me. If it is not in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary: put your tiles back and think again. “Aargh” is acceptable (an expression of anguish, horror, rage, or other strong emotion, according to the OED), but not “aarrghh”. My board, my rules.

Others disagree. “Aarrghh” appears in the Collins Official Scrabble Words. Collins’ latest edition also includes “thang”, “innit” and “nang”. Commentators greeted the Scrabble book by bemoaning the decline of the language and berating publishers who pandered to the young.

The new Collins book appeared on the same day that the CBI, the UK employers’ organisation, published a survey showing that 42 per cent of companies were dissatisfied with school leavers’ English skills. Are the two events connected?

Read more here.

Global Language Monitor’s comment about the supposed ‘decline of English’.

We at the Global Language Monitor have noted that for at least two hundred years folks as diverse as Benjamin Franklin (eliminating and adding new letters), Noah Webster and George Bernard Shaw (simplifying spelling), and George Orwell (simplifying grammar) have long argued. Ghoti and chips anyone?

Now that this is actually happening in the early 21st century, it is most interesting to note that these changes are being driven by the youthful users of the language, as has been the case since the earliest days of the language.

Consider: Sumer is icumen in! / Lhude sing cuccu!

Which ancient forbear playing an early version of Scrabble(tm), had the audacity to recognize ‘cuckoo’ for ‘cuccu’ or for that matter accept ‘loud’ for ‘lhude’?

One note of caution: these same folks have decided that is perfectly fine to intermix letters with words, so you now can find ‘gr8’ substituting for ‘great’.

Is this something the up with which you will simply not put?

Paul JJ Payack


Japanese Disasters Need-to-Know Glossary Update

Added: Chest x rays, Black swans, Dinosaur extinction event, Two packs-a-day

AUSTIN, Texas, March 21,  2011 — (Updated Daily) The Global Language Monitor has assembled the Japanese Disasters Need-to-Know Glossary to help understand the sometimes obtuse and ofter obscure terminology used in describing the concurrent Japanese Disasters that we are now witnessing.

We will add to the document as events continue to unfold.

“This is a tragedy of unprecedented proportions.  We believe it is our responsibility to help people around the globe more fully understand the depth of the destruction and the nature of the circumstances that have already have and continue to unfold,” said Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst of the Global Language Monitor.

Can Your Family or Business Survive a Disaster for Three Days? Click Here!

Term Definition
1.6 microseconds Number of microseconds the Earth’s spin was increased by the Sendai earthquake
9.0 magnitude The Japanese quake was 9.0 on the Richter Scale. This makes it about 700,000 times more powerful than last year’s Haitian earthquake. (See Richter Scale.)
12.5 magnitude Theoretical magnitude of the Chicxulub asteroid impact 65,000,000,000 years ago that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. (However, mammals live through it.)
900 kph The waves of the tsunami traveled traveled about as fast as of typical passenger jetliner (About 560 mph/900 kph)
Black Swan Black Swan: rare but Nation-destroying disasters: an asteroid hitting the earth; a super volcano (Yellowstone Caldera) rending half a continent lifeless; a solar flare that destroys all modern communication systems. The Japanese Tri-Crisis qualifies as a Black Swab.
Cesium-137 Metal of the Alkali group that can signal the presence of a nuclear reaction. The half-life of Cesium 137 is 30 years. This means it would take about 200 years for something contaminated with it to lose all signs of radioactivity. Its name is derived from the Latin for a bluish-gray color
Chernobyl The Chernobyl incident in Ukraine in 1986 was considered the world’s worst nuclear accident until now. A carbon-fed fire sent the radioactive elements high into the atmosphere affecting every country in Europe.
Chest X Ray Each chest x ray exposes you to about .04 mSv. A major surgery might require 1,000 x rays, which would result in 40 mSv. A single CT heart scan results in a 12 mSv exposure.
China Syndrome Theory that a molten nuclear core breeches its containment vessel (in the US) and proceeds through the Earth’s core all the way to China. This is not actually possible. (See Tierra del Fuego syndrome.)
Containment Building (or vessel) Reinforced concrete structure made to serve as final barrier to entrap radioactive gases
Earthquake Shaking of Earth’s crust due to underlying tectonic forces
Epicenter The center of the earthquake, ofter miles underground.
Fuel Rods The affected Japanese reactors have thousands of 12-foot long, zirconium-alloy fuel rods. Each contain thousands of uranium-oxide ceramic pellets. The fuel rods are densely packed into the reactor.
Fukushima 50 The fifty workers serving as the final defense against a catastrophic meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.
Fukushima Daiichi The nuclear reactors site with six boiling water reactors. 1, 2 and 6 were built by General Electric. 3, 4 and 5 were built by Toshiba. Fukushima Daiichi is 241 km (150 miles) from Tokyo.
Half-Life The time it takes radioactive material to expend one half of its radioactivity. The longer the half-life, the more dangerous the material.
Hiroshima Bomb The Hiroshima atomic bomb was detonated on August 6, 1945. It’s yield was estimated between 13 and 18 kilotons of TNT. It was set equivalent to a 6.2 magnitude quake.
IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency is headquartered in Vienna.
Indian Ocean Tsunami The Indian Ocean Tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004 resulted in waves over 18 meters (50 feet) high. Over 250,000 people were killed, some 5,000 km (3000 m) away.
International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) The INES, introduced in1990 by the IAEA, has seven levels, with 1-3 considered incidents and 4-7, accidents. The Fukushima incident was recently moved from Level 4 to 5 (equivalent to Three Mile Island). Chernobyl is the only Level 7 accident on record.). The French Nuclear Agency suggests Fukushima to be a Level 6.
Iodine-131 Iodine-131 is a highly radioactive element that signifies at least a partial meltdown. The half-life of Iodine-131 is about 8 days, which means that it decays far faster than Cesium-137. The radioactive iodine is concentrated in the thyroid, however taking iodine potassium tablets fill the thyroid to capacity so the radioactive Iodine -131 is more likely to be excreted.
Krakatoa Indonesian Volcano that exploded in 1883 with a force equivalent to 8.5 magnitude (and some 200 megatons). Purported to be the loudest sound ever heard up to 5,000 km (or about 3,000 miles). The sound waves were measured to circle the earth seven times.
Linear No Threshold Model LNT basically it means that even a small exposure to radioactivity will increase the chance of cancer occurring in a corresponding small percentage of the population. The smaller the exposure, the smaller the risk, but the risk never falls to zero. The LNT model is generally accepted by most governments and scientific agencies, but is considered controversial in some scientific circles. This is why you hear conflicting views from experts on the cancer risk.
Meltdown When a core meltdown catastrophic melting of the core of a nuclear reactor due to a loss of cooling
No. 5 The earthquake was the fifth strongest since 1900.
Nuclear reactor Devices that use chain reactions of fissionable materials to boil water to create steam. The steam runs through turbines to create power.
Plate tectonics Theory that the continents rest on plates that drift into each other, causing earthquakes and mountain building
Prefecture States or Provinces of Japan. There are 47 prefectures.
Richter scale The logarithmic scale that measures the strength of an earthquake named after Charles Richter. It is a base-10 logarithmic scale. This means that an earthquake that measures 3.0 is 10 times more powerful that one measuring 2.0. The scale is open-ended, though the 1960 Chile quake measured at 9.6.
Sendai Earthquake At 9.0 the Sendai earthquake was the fifth largest since 1900. The Sendai quake was equivalent to about 100,000 Hiroshima-class bombs.
Sievert and millisievert (and millisievert) A unit of measurement for radiation dosage. According to the World Health Organization, the average person is exposed to about 3 millisieverts a year from natural sources and 3 mSv from human-made sources.
Three Mile Island In 1979 Unit No. 2 of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania experienced a partial meltdown. Later it was found that the molten radioactive material penetrated within 1 centimeter of breaking through the containment barrier. Because of its location and the prevailing wind patterns, the fallout could have traveled over the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard, passing over Philadelphia, New York and possibly Boston with a population of more than 30,000,000.
Tierra del Fuego Syndrome The China Syndrome when applied to the Far East (See China Syndrome.)
Tokyo Capital of Japan with more than 30,000,000 people in its metropolitan area.
Tsar Bomba The largest hydrogen bomb ever detonated, by the Soviet Union in 1961. It was about equal to a 7.8 magnitude quake in the general range of the San Francisco earthquake 0f 1908 and the Mount Saint Helen’s volcanic explosion in 1981.
Tsunami From the Japanese tsu (harbor) and nami (wave); waves caused by undersea land movement; usually caused by earthquakes. A tsunami gathers destructive force as it nears land. Depending on the configuration of the shoreline, wave rise over ten-times in height.
Two Packs a Day Smoking two packs of cigarettes a day exposes you to about 17 mSv per year. Smoke for a lifetime that’s 850 mSv.


Wikileaks declared English-language Word

Another New Media Company that Passes into the Language

AUSTIN, Texas December  21, 2010 – WikiLeaks.ch, which that has increasingly upped the ante of the kind of information that it leaks into the public sphere from anonymous sources, has been deemed an English language word by the Global language Monitor.  GLM recognizes a word as being part of the English language once it meets the requisite criteria of geographic reach as well as ‘depth and breadth’ of recorded usage.

In the case of wikileaks, the word appeared sporadically in the global media in 2006 until it has now been cited more than 300 million times, even with a quick Google search.  This, of course, correlates with WikiLeaks’ most recent release of diplomatic correspondence and other classified government information.  GLM standards include a minimum of 25,000 citations of a new term in the global media that encompass the English-speaking world, which now encompasses some  1.58 billion people.  (In 1960, there were about 250 million English speakers, mostly in former British colonies.)

“Wikileaks joins a number of new media and high technology companies whose names and functions are being incorporated into the language,” said Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst of Austin-based Global Language Monitor.  “These include Google, Twitter and the ‘friending’ function of Facebook.   The most recent language spin-off from Google appears to be Xoogler, referring to ex-Google employees who bring their talents to other start-ups.”

The word ‘wiki’ is Hawaiian in origin and is usually defined as ‘quick’ or ‘fast’ especially when used in rapid succession:  “wiki, wiki, wiki!”.  In computing, a wiki describes software that lets any user create or edit Web-server content.  The WikiLeaks organization was originally set-up as a ‘wiki’.

There is no official English language institution charged with maintaining the ‘purity’ of the English language and to maintain vigilance of the ‘corrupting influence’ of other languages.  English accepts any and all contenders as long as they meet the requisite criteria of geographic reach as well as depth and breadth of usage.  The L’Académie française is the official arbiter of the French language; it has famously  declared the word ‘email’ (as well as ‘hamburger’) verboten from official French correspondence.  The Royal Spanish Academy serves the same function for the Spanish language; it has recently eliminated two letters from the Spanish alphabet to the howl of Spanish speakers outside Spain.

The most recent words acknowledged by the Global Language Monitor include ‘refudiate’ a malapropism coined by Sarah Palin, ‘vuvuzela’ the brightly colored plastic horns made (in)famous at the South African World Cup, and ‘snowmageddon’ that President Obama used to described the winter storms that nearly shut down Washington, DC during the recent winter.


Top Words of 2010

Spillcam is the Top Word, Anger and Rage the Top Phrase

and Chinese Leader Hu Jintao the Top Name


AUSTIN, Texas November 27, 2010 (Updated) – The Global Language Monitor has announced that Spillcam is the Top Word, Anger and Rage the Top Phrase and Chinese Leader Hu Jintao the Top Name of 2010 in its annual global survey of the English language.  Spillcam was followed by Vuvuzela, the Narrative, Refudiate, and Guido.  Deficit, Snowmageddon, 3-D, Shellacking and Simplexity rounded out the Top 10.

“Our top words this year come from an environmental disaster, the World Cup, political malapropisms, new senses to ancient words, a booming economic colossus, and a heroic rescue that captivated the world for days on end.  This is fitting for a relentlessly growing global language that is being taken up by thousands of new speakers each and every day,” said Paul JJ Payack, President of The Global Language Monitor.

The words are culled from throughout the English-speaking world, which now numbers more than 1.58 billion speakers.

Methodology: The Global Language Monitor’s WOTY was conceived in 1999 as a way to create a cultural record of the year as reflected in the world’s current global language, English.  Previous efforts were decided by small groups of academics or lexicographers; our idea was to reflect the words used by the world’s 1.5 billion English Speakers.

Accordingly, GLM monitors million of web pages on the Internet, Blogosphere, and social media in addition to over 80,000 print and electronic media sites.  In this way we search for words that are the most relevant to various aspects of culture, such as world events (the rise of China, the South Asian Tsunami), politics (the election of Obama to the US Presidency), prominent deaths (Pope John Paul II, Michael Jackson), war and terror (Iraq, Afghanistan and the  Terrorist Attacks on the US and London), film (Jai Ho!, Brokeback), sports (Beijing Olympics, South African World Cup), and the like. We then use our analytical engine to determine the number of citations for the words, their prominence, how quickly they are rising or falling in use, and the geographic breadth and depth (various forms of publication) of their use.

To immediately download an in-depth presentation of GLM’s algorithmic-based methodology, fill out the form on the upper left corner of this page.

To listen to “What’s My Word,” a game show developed by Austin’s NPR flagship station, KUT,to help review the top words for 2010, click here.


For the Top Words of the Decade (2000-2009), go here.


The Top Words of 2010

Rank / Word / Comments

1.  Spillcam — The BP Spillcam instantly beamed the immensity of the Gulf Spill around the world to the dismay of environmentalists, BP’s PR staff and the President.

2.  Vuvuzela — Brightly colored plastic horns that first came to prominence at the South African World Cup.

3.  The Narrative – Though used at least since The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845,  ‘The Narrative’ has recently been gaining traction in the political arena, virtually replacing the need for a party’s platform.  (Cf. to ‘truthily’.)

4.  Refudiate — Conflation of “refute” and “repudiate” (un)officially coined by Sarah Palin.

5.   Guido and Guidette — Hey! All things Jersey are hot, capish? (Actually, capisci in standard Italian.)





Listen to Tracking 2010’s Most-Used Words, Names And Phrases


6.   Deficit – A growing and possibly intractable problem for the economies of most of the developed world.

7.  Snowmagedden (and ‘Snowpocalypse’) — Portmanteau words linking ‘snow’ with ‘apocalypse’ and  ‘armageddon’, used to describe the record snowfalls in the US East Coast and Northern Europe last winter.

8.  3-D — Three-dimensional (as in movies) is buffo box office this year, but 3-D is being used in new ways generally describing ‘robustness’ in products (such as toothpaste).

9.  Shellacking – President Obama’s description of the ‘old-fashioned thumpin’ in George W. Bush’s words, that Democrats received in the 2010 US Mid-term elections.

10.  Simplexity – The paradox of simplifying complex ideas in order to make them easier to understand, the process of which only adds to their complexity.

Also Noted: (Spoken Only) Twenty-ten: Finally, a common way to refer to the year; Obamacare (noted as one of the Top Political Buzzwords).

The Top Phrases of 2010

Rank / Phrase / Comments

1.  Anger and Rage – Characterizations of the US electorate by the pundits, though closer analyses has revealed more frustration and disappointment.  Also witnessed in France, Spain and Greece.

2.  Climate Change – (and Global Warming) No. 1 Phrase for the first decade of the 21st century; starts out second decade at No. 2.

3.  The Great Recession – The media term frequently used to describe the on-going global economic restructuring.

4.  Teachable Moment – Turning any undesirable outcome into a positive opportunity by using it as an object lesson. Unfortunately, there were a plethora of teachable moments in the first year of the new decade.

5.  Tea Party — An emerging political movement in the US that has upset the balance of power in the US Congress.

6.  Ambush Marketing – Cashing in at an event by taking on the appearance of a sponsor of the event.  Most obviously displayed at the Vancouver Winter Olympics and South Africa’s World Cup 2010.

7.  Lady Gaga — Gaga, herself, became a buzzword in the global entertainment industry in 2010.

8.  Man Up – This election cycle’s signature retort from the women running for office to their male opponents.

9.  Pass the bill to be able to see what’s in it — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s now infamous quip underlying the complexity of the Healthcare Reform legislation.

10.  Obamamania — Notable only in it fall from grace; Obamamania now ranks at the bottom of this year’s political buzzwords.

Also Noted — Don’t Touch My Junk: One reaction to the TSA new search policies.

The Top Names of 2009

Rank / Name / Comments

1.  Hu – President Hu Jintao, paramount leader of China.  Rise of China was the No. 1 Story of the 1st decade of the 21st century; now Hu begins the second decade in the top spot.

2.  IPad – With over eight million sold in a matter of months, the IPad is now a name on everybody’s lips.  (Sorry, Steve Jobs, the IPads tests better than you.)

3.  Barack Obama — President of the United States has had a tough sophomore year.

4.  Chilean Coal Miners – The ordeal and heroic rescue is perhaps the top inspirational story of the year.

5.  Eyjafjallajoekull – Does a name that no one can pronounce deserve a spot on a top name’s list?

6.  Nancy Pelosi – Speaker of the US House of Representatives, presided over the passing of the healthcare reform bill and the decimation of her party in the Mid-term elections.

7.  Sarkozy – Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa, the current French president, is attempting to re-define what it means to be citizen of the Republic.

8.  Tea Party – Leaderless movement in US political circles, the center of much of the angst in the electorate.

9.  Jersey Shore – Not quite the Cote d’Azure, The Shore, as the locals call it, is now known as a breeding ground for guidos and guidettes.

10.  David Cameron and Nick Clegg – The leaders of the UK’s new coalition government.

Also Noted — Kate Middleton, recently engaged to Prince William.

Top Words of the Decade:

The Top Words of the Decade were Global Warming, 9/11, and Obama outdistance Bailout, Evacuee, and Derivative; Google, Surge, Chinglish, and Tsunami followed.

Climate Change  was top phrase; Heroes was top name.

Previous Words of the Year include:


Top Words:  No. 1 Twitter, No. 2 Obama-, No. 3 H1N1

Top Phrases: No. 1 King of Pop, No. 2 Obama-mania, No. 3 Climate Change

Top Names:  No. 1 Obama, No. 2 Michael Jackson, No. 3 Mobama


Top Words: No. 1 Change, No. 2 Bailout, No. 3 Obama-mania

Top Phrases:  No. 1 Financial Tsunami, No. 2 Global Warming, No. 3 “Yes, We Can!”

Top Names:  No. 1 Barack Obama, No. 2 George W. Bush, No.3 Michael Phelps



Top Words:  No. 1 Hybrid (representing all things green),  No. 2: Surge

Top Phrase: Climate Change

Top Name: Al Gore


Top Word: Sustainable

Top Phrase: Stay the Course

Top Name: Dafur


Top Words:  No. 1, Refugee No. 2: Tsunami No. 3: Katrina

Top Phrase: Outside the Mainstream

Top Name: (acts of ) God



Listen to Top Words 2010 and how they reflect the year





Top Word: Incivility (for inCivil War)

Top Phrase: Red States/Blue States No. 2: Rush to War

Top Name: Dubya/Rove


Top Word: Embedded

Top Phrase:  Shock and Awe,  No. 2: Rush to War

Top Name: Saddam Hussein,  No. 2 Dubya


Top Word: Misunderestimate

Top Phrase:  Threat Fatigue

Top Name: W (Dubya)


Top Word: Ground Zero

Top Phrase: ‘Lets Roll’

Top Name:  The Heros


Top Word:  Chad

Top Phrase:  Dot.com

Top Name: W (Dubya)


‘Refudiate’: Why Sarah Palin’s Twitter flub may outlast her

By John Austin | Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Pundits jumped on Sarah Palin when she recently tweeted that people should “refudiate” plans for a New York City mosque near Ground Zero.

“Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate,” Palin tweeted.

The tweet was quickly deleted, and refute replaced refudiate, but the clips of Palin using the word on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show have not gone away. Nor has the flap over how the former governor and vice presidential candidate let her linguistic slip show.

Still, while Palin is no Shakespeare — a famous coiner of words — it may be wrong to misunderestimate refudiate too quickly.

“In English, the tradition is words bubble up from the people,” said Paul J.J. Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor in Austin. “If it’s used, it’s accepted as a word.”

George W. Bush’s notorious use of misunderestimate is a good example of how what’s called a portmanteau word can find acceptance.

Like an old-fashioned portmanteau traveling case that opens into two compartments like a book, portmanteau words such as refudiate combine two other words in form and meaning.  [Read More.]


Evacuee, Apocalypse & Hiroshima: Katrina Continues to Impact Language

Katrina Continues to Impact Language, Media and Politics


AUSTIN, Texas.   (August 30, 2010) – Katrina had a deep and lasting impact on how America looks at catastrophes and crises in the early 21st century.  And Katrina’s influence is becoming all the more pervasive as the effects of the crisis linger and the reality of the magnitude of the destruction continues to come to light.  An exclusive analysis by the Global Language Monitor (GLM) using it analytical resources, underscores how some five years after the event, Katrina continues to have an out-sized impact on our cultural landscape.  Last year, GLM ranked the Top Stories in the Global Media during the first decade of the 21st century.  Katrina ranked No. 8.

Background:  It is often said that the war in Viet Nam was the first war to be broadcast directly into American living rooms (back when people still gathered for dinner together and watched network news broadcasts).  We watched in horror at the mass destruction of the Towers falling a quarter of a century later, many of us on our computer screens.  But it was the unfolding of the inundation of New Orleans after the levees gave way that provided us with any number of up-close-and personal tragedies that would unfold (and float) before our disbelieving eyes.

Among the most prominent example of Katrina’s continuing cultural impact include:

  1. Refugee vs. Evacuee – At the time GLM’s analysis found that the term for the displaced, refugees, appeared 5 times more frequently in the global media than the more neutral, evacuees.  At the term, refugee was cited as racially insensitive.  Never endorsed by the AP Stylebook, currently the word refugee is used in the media some fifty times more than evacuee.
  2. “Heckova job, Brownie!” – GLM named this paraphrase of President Bush’s actual remark, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” as the most memorable phrase of 2005.  The phrase, according to a Reuter’s report at the time, “became a national punch line for countless jokes and pointed comments about the administration’s handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster”.  Even now variations of the phrase are used to criticize less-than-stellar efforts, such as when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “Heck of a job, Barry” (her nickname for President Obama) in her Dec. 29th, 2009 column.
  3. Apocalyptic Imagery — The Southeast Asia Tsunami that killed over 200,000 people occurred nine months before Katrina, so audiences were somewhat familiar with horrific images of exotic locales as scenes of mass destruction.  However, the thought of the devastation unfolding in a major, revered US city, with the world watching the only remaining superpower, apparently unable to mobilize the necessary resources to stop the ongoing destruction and loss of life proved more than the press could handle.  Immediately, the global press echoed with apocalyptic imagery.  The Times in London led with: “Devastation that could send an area the size of England back to the Stone Age” and continued describing “a paranoid post-apocalyptic landscape … where corpses lie amid a scene of Biblical devastation, any semblance of modern society has gone.”
  4. The Hiroshima Analogy – Katrina hit landfall shortly after the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.   AP cited Mississippi governor Haley Barbour “Struggling with what he calls Hurricane Katrina’s nuclear destruction … [showing] the emotional strain of leading a state through a disaster of biblical proportions”.  However, the analogy continues to be used in light of the lingering effects of a drawn-out and, some would argue, less-than-successful recovery effort.  There are still 55,000 uninhabitable buildings half of which the new mayor has pledged to remove by 2014; many still lack essential services; the levees remain in questionable condition, and most importantly, some 20-to-25% of the population has failed to return.

5.  Storm and Scientific Terminology — The public has a much better understanding of the specific terminology surrounding hurricanes and tropical storms.  This would include:

  • Saffir-Simpson Scale, which predicts the destructive power of a hurricane,
  • Category or Hurricane Scale that measures the strength of a hurricane’s strength, from low to high (1 to 5).  Katrina peaked at Category 5 but at landfall fell to Category 3.
  • Storm Surge, the wall of water pushed in from of a hurricane.  Katrina’s was about 30 feet, the highest on record.
  • Levee, the massive, supposedly impermeable earthen walls, meant to hold back storm surges.  New Orleans has some 350 miles of levees.  An unfortunate fact about levees, once they let water in, they can actually prevent it from going out.
  • Naming System for Hurricanes, which has been in place for some fifty years.   They names are alphabetically sorted, alternating men’s and women’s names. The list was exclusively female until 1979. Names are recycled every 6 years. Influential hurricanes have their names retired.  Katrina was obviously retired.

6.  The name Katrina, according to the Social Security Administration, has fallen sharply in popularity.  In 2004 Katrina was the 274th most popular names for girls born in the US; in 2009 it ranked at 815.

For historical coverage of Hurricane Katrina from the Global Language Monitor, go here.