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Words of the Year 2012

Apocalypse is the Top Word

Gangnam Style is the Top Phrase

Newtown AND Malala Yousafzai are the Top Names of the Year

Global Language Monitor’s 13th Annual Survey of Global English

Number of Words in the English Language:  1,019,729.6 (January 1, 2013 estimate)

AUSTIN, Texas  December 27, 2012  — The Global Language Monitor has announced that ‘Apocalypse’ is the Top Word, ‘Gangnam Style’ is the Top Phrase  and Newtown AND Malala Yousafzai are the Top Names of 2012 in its 13th annual global survey of the English language. 

Apocalypse was followed by deficit, Olympiad, Bak’tun, and meme.  Rounding out the top ten were MOOC, the Cloud, Omnishambles, Frankenstorm, and obesogenic.

“Apocalypse  (Armageddon, and similar terms) reflects a growing fascination with various ‘end-of-the-world’ scenarios, or at least the end of life as we know it.  This year the Mayan Apocalypse was well noted, but some eight of the top words and phrases were directly related to a sense of impending doom.” said Paul JJ Payack, President of the Global Language Monitor.

“These included:  Apocalypse, Bak’tun, Frankenstorm, Global Warming/Climate Change, God Particle, Rogue Nukes, Solar Max, Near-Earth Asteroid.  Media examples include the Mayan apocalypse frenzy in Russia, the US Presidential elections  (Obamageddon, Romneygeddon),  the threatened dissolution of the common currency in Europe (Eurogeddon), to the call for the United Nations to implement an ‘Armageddon-type’ policy to address previously undetected space rocks hurtling toward Earth.

“Our top words, phrases and names this year represent some five continents, which continues to confirm the ever-expanding nature of the English language.”


(See more on Apocalypse and Armageddon after the Top Words List.)

The Top Words of 2012 follow Rank/ Word / Comments

  1. Apocalypse / Armageddon, and variations thereof  — The word Apocalypse has been in ascendance in the English for more than 500 years.  However,recent years has witnessed an unprecedented resurgence of the word.
  2. Deficit — Looks like deficit-spending will plague Western democracies for at least the next decade. Note to economists of stripes:  reducing the rate of increase of deficit spending actually increases the deficit.
  3. Olympiad — The Greeks measured time by the four-year interval between the Games.  Moderns measure it by medal counts, rights fees and billions of eyeballs.
  4. Bak’tun — A cycle of  144,000 days in the Maya ‘Long Count’ Calendar. This bak’tun ends on December 21, 2012, also being called the Mayan Apocalypse.  (Actually Maya ‘long-count’ calendars stretch hundreds of millions of years into the future, December 21st merely marks the beginning of a new cycle.)
  5. Meme — Internet Memes can best be conceived as thoughts or ideas rather than words, since they can and often do encompass sounds, photos, and text.  Memes are propagated through every imaginable form of electronic communications, eventually surfacing in the traditional print and electronic media.
  6. MOOC — Massive Open Online Course; the nature of higher education is changing and MOOC is the phenomenon to watch.
  7. The Cloud — Neither the play by Aristophanes nor a forgotten title by Hitchcock, but rather where your data heads after you press <enter>.
  8. Omnishambles — From the UK and the top word of the Oxford American Dictionary team, where everything, everywhere  seems to be in a state of disarray.
  9. Frankenstorm — Superstorm’s Sandy’s colloquial name. From a meteorologist’s lips to a globally recognized neologism within a few hours.
  10. Obesogenic  — An environment that tends to encourage obesity.  Lately it has been used to describe television advertisement that promote sugary and high-calorie snacks to kids.
  11. Hen — The Swedish attempt to create a gender-neutral pronoun to replace him or her or combinations thereof:  hen.
  12. Derecho — A ‘land hurricane,’ a sudden storm with extremely strong, one-directional winds, such as the storm that swept from the Midwest into the Washington, D.C. area earlier this year.
  13. Hashtag — The ‘pound sign’ reborn as the all-powerful Twitter hash tag; what next a re-branding of the period as a ‘full stop’.
  14. Drones — Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that are piloted remotely or by on-board computers; mostly used for military applications.
  15. Fracking — The extraction of fossil fuels by hydraulic fracturing in rock formations, and injecting fluids to force the release of hitherto inaccessible hydrocarbons.
  16. Phobes — The Loyal Opposition? How 19th c. of you.  Opponents (of either side) are now cast as fear-filled and hateful phobes or haters.
  17. Superfood — An non-scientific term used to describe foods that are calorie sparse and nutrient dense.
  18. The 47 — Presidential candidate Mitt Romney characterization of the percentage of Americans who pay no Federal taxes.
  19. YOLO — You Only Live Once meant to convey derision or astonishment.
  20. Adorkable — The rise of the Nerds!  A portmanteau word from dork and adorable.



Listen to Last Year’s (2011) Top Words of the Year



The words Apocalypse and Armageddon are intermixed in the current English language media.  New words or neologisms are created with both stems  all referring to some type of  ‘end-of-the-world-type’ phenomena.  Both words stem from the final book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation in which the final battle between good and evil (Armageddon) is revealed (apokalyptein).

Apocalyptic terms are combination or ‘portmanteau’ words linking a root word with ‘apocalypse’ such as the Snowpocalypse in the Washington, D.C. area several years ago mentioned by President Obama.  Apocalypse, itself, can be traced to the ancient Greek word apokalyptein meaning to ‘uncover, restore, reveal or disclose’ (hence the name of the final book of the New Testament. The Book of Revelation).  The words apocalypse and apocalyptic are both frequent expressions of the global media especially when used in reference to any cataclysmic event such as the South Asian Tsunami or the inundation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, as GLM then noted.

Terms related to Armageddon are also  portmanteau words that ultimately can be traced to the same source.  The Greek word Harmagedōn and its Hebrew counterpart har məgiddô both refer to the ancient settlement of Megiddo.  Megiddo stood astride important Middle Eastern trade routes and was subsequently the scene of many battles in Biblical times. The word ‘Armageddon’ has come to be associated in the popular mind with any end-of-the-world scenario, such as portrayed in the movie of the same name, starring Bruce Willis, or the ‘Carmageddon’ event in Los Angeles, where one of the main freeways was shut down for a number of hours.

Methodology:  GLM’s Word of the Year rankings are based upon actual word usage throughout the English-speaking world, which now numbers more than 1.83 billion people.  To qualify for these lists, the words, names, and phrases must be found globally, have a minimum of 25,000 citations. and the requisite ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’ of usage.  Depth is here defined as appearing in various forms of media; breadth that they must appear world-over, not limited to a particular profession or social group or geography.

GLM employs its NarrativeTracker technologies for global Internet and social media analysis. NarrativeTracker is based on global discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture about any topic, at any point in time. NarrativeTracker analyzes the Internet, blogosphere, the top 275,000 print and electronic global media, as well as new social media sources as they emerge.


The Top Phrases of 2012

Rank / Phrase / Comment

  1. Gangnam Style:  A South Korean YouTube video watched 1,000,000,000 times around the world cannot be ignored because it might be considered frivolous.
  2. Global Warming/Climate Change – No. 1 phrases for the first decade of the 21st century; still resonate well into its second decade.
  3. Fiscal Cliff —  Sharp automatic tax increases and spending cuts to U.S. Federal programs that go into effect with the new year — if the Budget Control Act of 2011 is not addressed.
  4. The deficit—the difference between what the government takes in and what it spends—is projected to be reduced by roughly half in 2013
  5. God Particle — The ever-elusive Higgs Boson, the search for which, according to CERN, carries a 1 in 50,000,000 of creating a mini Black Hole that just might swallow the Earth.  Oops.
  6. Rogue nukes —  Iran and North Korea are the focus of attention again.
  7. Near-Earth Asteroid —  Yet another year, another asteroid, another near-miss; this one slipping between the orbits of the Earth and the Moon.
  8. Binders Full of Women — Any unfortunate misstatement or turn of phrase, especially when viewed by some 50 million in a US Presidential Debate becomes immediately meme-worthy.
  9. Arab Spring — Still no Successor term as the Arab Spring morphs into something far more ominous.
  10. Solar max —  The peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle;  in 1854 solar storms melted telegraph wires; what’s in store for our all-pervasive electronic infrastructure?
  11. Big Data  — No 1 on the 2012’s  Tech List, ushering in a global transformation in how data is processed, analyzed, and turned into solutions.
  12. Ethical/Sustainable Fashion– A global movement that includes designs from indigenous communities and emerging peoples.
  13. Toxic Politics — See 2012 US Presidential Campaign.
  14. Citius, Altius, Fortius — (Faster, Higher, Stronger) The Olympic Motto, in Latin not Greek, of course.
  15. War Against Women — In the US an economic and social issue; in much of the world an issue of sexual slavery, honor killings, and lack of  basic human rights.


The Top Names of 2012

Rank /Name / Comments

  1. Newtown and Malala Yousafzai (tie) — The Connecticut site of a horrific massacre of innocents; and the Pakistani girl shot by terrorists for promoting the right to education for  girls. 
  2. Xi Jinping — Replaces Hu Jintao, under whose administration China has seen a decade of extraordinary growth.
  3. Kate Middleton — With a baby on the way (and the publishing of photos of a most private nature), the Duchess of Cambridge maintains a high profile.
  4. President Obama – Hope and Change retreat further into the history books as Obama survives a brutal campaign.
  5. Mitt Romney — Soon to depart into the wormhole that most losing US Presidential candidates invariably find themselves.  Dukakis? Mondale? Etc.
  6. London Olympics — A triumphal return to the Olympic stage that would have astounded those present at the first Post-War Games in 1948.
  7. Higgs Boson — The long-sought particle theorized to have been present at the creation, is confirmed in CERN experiments.  (And, yes, Dr. Higgs,  has lived to see confirmation of his conjecture.)
  8. Europe (E.U. / Eurogeddon) — United, breaking apart, saving the Euro, abandoning the Euro, with the UK again as an ‘interested onlooker’.  How do you say ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ in German.
  9. Felix Baumgartner —  Austrian Felix Baumgartner becomes the first skydiver to break the speed of sound, reaching a maximum …
  10. Senkaku Islands — No one actually cares about these rocky, inhospitable outcroppings; it’s the mineral rights under surround seas of concern here.
  11. John Roberts — Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court at the center of the upholding of the Affordable Healthcare Act (or Obamacare).
  12. Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu) — The current Prime Minister of Israel.
  13. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — The current president of Iran, a largely ceremonial post.
  14. Christopher Stevens  — Ambassador to Libya, gunned down at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
  15. Angela Merkel — The chancellor of Germany attempting to hold together the currency union and avoid the Eurogeddon.


Top Words of the Decade

The Top Words of the Decade  Global Warming, 9/11, and Obama outdistanced Bailout, Evacuee, and Derivative; Google, Surge, Chinglish, and Tsunami followed. Climate Change was top phrase; Heroes was the top name.

Previous Words of the Year include:


Top Words: No. 1 Occupy, No.2 Fracking, No.3 Drone

Top Phrases:  No. 1 Arab Spring, No. 2 Royal Wedding, No.3 Anger and Rage

Top Names:  No. 1 Steve Jobs, No. 2 Osama bin-laden and Seal Team Six, No.3 Fukushima

Top Words: No. 1 Spillcam, No. 2 Vuvuzela, No. 3 The Narrative
Top Phrases: No. 1 Anger and Rage, No. 2 Climate Change, No. 3 The Great Recession
Top Names: No. 1 Hu Jintao, paramount leader of China, No. 2 iPad, No. 3 Barack Obama

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

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)

About The Global Language Monitor

Austin-Texas-based Global Language Monitor analyzes and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices and their impact on the various aspects of culture, with a particular emphasis upon Global English.

For more information, call 1.512.815.8836, email info@LanguageMonitor.com, or visit www.LanguageMonitor.com.



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