Not to say that language used to be boring in its glacial change, but it kind of was. Compared to now, at least, when anybody, on any blog or in any forum, can potentially change the way language is used by the multitude. A lot of people resent that language change is accelerating so rapidly with the internet, but what they’re really resisting is that linguistic consensus is given to groups that have not had it in the past, a powerful thing. Grammar Nazis might not agree, but the Oxford American Dictionary certainly does. This year the dictionary chose ‘unfriend’ as its Word of the Year, both for the word’s importance in what we do everyday as well as for its unorthodox prefix and root usage. (Prefixes are underrated).
"['Unfriend'] has both currency and potential longevity," said Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford's US dictionary program, explaining the dictionary's choice.
"In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year,” Lindberg said.
And now for the grammar porn: “Most 'un-' prefixed words are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant), and there are certainly some familiar 'un-' verbs (uncap, unpack), but 'unfriend' is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of 'friend' that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!)," Lindberg said.
The only real problem with choosing ‘unfriend’ as the word of the year is that it is tied to a specific platform; a platform which, following Friendster’s Law, will be replaced in a few years by something new. So I would argue against longevity.
Maybe the people I myspaced on Facebook would disagree.
Many other Word of the Year runners up from were from tech, including myriad words surrounding Twitter (tweetup, retweet, twitterati, hashtag, plus eleven others). Also on the list were freemium, netbook, sexting, intexticated (texting while driving – I’d never heard that one, though I apparently work in tech) and paywall.
The Oxford American Dictionary has been going back and forth between technology and ecology for the last few years. Last year’s winner was ‘hypermiling', ‘locavore’ in 2007, ‘carbon neutral’ in 2006 and ‘podcast’ in 2005.