Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year is … hard to pronounce

The Oxford Dictionaries gave the honor to “squeezed middle.” Your move, Dictionary.com.

On the heels of Oxford University Press’s unveiling its Word of the Year on Monday, Dictionary.com announced its choice—”Tergiversate.” Huh? According to Dictionary.com, the word means “to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.” The second meaning is “to turn renegade.” It is pronounced, “ter-JIV-er-sate.” So, let’s get this straight. First, Oxford University Press chooses “squeezed middle” as its Word of the Year—a phrase many people haven’t even heard—and now Dictionary.com gives us “tergiversate.” What’s going on? That sounds more a puzzler from the National Spelling Bee than something that you wish people would … just … stop … saying, for God’s sake. Jay Schwartz, Dictionary.com’s head of content, had this to say to The Huffington Post:

“We’re taking a stand on this choice. We think that it’s immensely rewarding to find existing words that capture a precise experience, and this year, tumult has been the norm rather than the exception. There are contested public spaces around the world, where people are demonstrating in one direction or another. Opinions and circumstances have been oscillating so much. “This word encompasses an sense of ‘flip flopping’ but it also implies a number of other complicating forces. Unlike ‘flip flop’, ‘tergiversate’ suggests a lack of intentionality—it’s a change in state more out of necessity, as new events happen at great speed, whether in the economy, politics or attitudes.”

The team at Dictionary.com also considered “occupy,” “austerity,” “jobs,” “zugzwang,” and “insidious,” Schwartz told The Huffington Post. Many language aficionados will be pleased that Dictionary.com chose one word instead of Oxford University Press’s two-word phrase (which it called a compound—and don’t get lexicographers started on that one.) Linguist Geoff Pullum contends that the Word of the Year should, in fact, be one word, while Slate‘s David Hagland’s says Oxford’s choice is “terrible.” Ben Zimmer, the former “On Language” columnist at The New York Times, disagrees with Pullum on the one-word issue. Zimmer, who is head of the new-words committee at the American Dialect Society, does concur that “squeezed middle” is an odd choice for the U.S. because of its failure to resonate in America. That is not, it should be noted, a case of his tergiversating on the point. The American Dialect Society also picks a Word of the Year. Recently, Zimmer said that “occupy” was the frontrunner for 2011, replacing Charlie Sheen’s favorite word “winning,” which was the clear favorite in the first half of the year. (Image via.)


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