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WMD Takes ‘Word of the Year’

Talk of war with Iraq has revived a decades-old phrase, making it last year’s “Word of the Year”—weapons of mass destruction. Or, for those in a hurry, WMD.

Each year, the American Dialect Society chooses a word or phrase for the year. And the “grim forebodings of the past year” were reflected in its choice for 2002, according to the organization’s Web site.

“The term goes back 50 years, but you can’t turn on the radio or television without hearing about ‘weapons of mass destruction,'” Wayne Glowka, an English professor at Georgia College & State University, told Associated Press.

Glowka, who is also chairman of the society’s new words committee, said many of the words nominated by society members reflected the looming threat of war with Iraq or the suffering economy.

“All these words-Iraqnaphobia, regime change, weapons of mass destruction-they all have to do with worry about war with Iraq. So it hasn’t been a very good year,” Glowka told AP. “Not as bad as last year, but certainly not an ‘up’ year.”

Words of the Year usually reflect the concerns and preoccupations of the previous year, read the society’s Web site. The words do not need to be new, but are generally “newly prominent.”

Other candidates for Word of the Year included:

google (verb)-to search the Web using the search engine Google for information on a person or thing.

blog-from weblog, a Web site of personal events, comments and links.

Amber alert-public announcement of a missing child.

regime change-forced change in leadership.

Other fun choices were offered in various categories from “most useful” to “most euphemistic.”

Teen angstrel (angst-ridden popular singer); Saddameter (meter on television showing daily likelihood of war with Iraq); virtuecrat (person both politically correct and morally righteous); and dirty bomb (conventional bomb laced with radioactive material) all made the list.

“Weapons of Mass Destruction” also made it on another word list for 2002: the “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness.”

“It’s like someone jumping out of a closet and saying ‘boo’ too many times,” John Shibley, spokesman for Lake Superior State University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and contributor to the list of banished words, told the Chicago Tribune.

Give the buzzwords a rest, starting with “weapons of mass destruction,” said the list’s compilers.

“We run the risk of trivializing the horror of these things if we keep invoking the bogyman over and over again,” Shibley said of the drumbeat use of “weapons of mass destruction.”
“They could just say chemical weapons or biological weapons or nuclear weapons,” he told the Tribune.

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.

Click here to view the entire “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness.”