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Language Evolution, 2013

The year in language. Cronut. Vape. Twerk. Sharknado. We’ll look at the language that went large in 2013.

Miley Cyrus performs on NBC's "Today" show on Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 in New York. The pop star's dance moves lead to one of 2013's most widely-discussed words, "twerk." (AP)

Miley Cyrus performs on NBC’s “Today” show on Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 in New York. The pop star’s dance moves lead to one of 2013’s most widely-discussed words, “twerk.” (AP)

Language is carved in stone of course, all over the place, but it never stays there. In the world, in our mouths, in our conversations that now move from text to speech to text again, it changes all the time. The language of 2013 had all-new formulations — sharknado — and grand, ancient words reassigned — @pontifex is now the Pope’s Twitter handle. We’ve had heavy rotation for “vape” and “twerk” and “Molly” and “deep state” and “haha” and “ROTFL.” “Lean in.” “Cronut.” And a new hybridizing of speech and text. #NewTerrain. This hour On Point: linguist John McWhorter on the year in language, 2013.

— Tom Ashbrook

Guest

John McWhorter, linguist, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and contributing editor at The New Republic. Author of “The Language Hoax: Why The World Looks The Same In Any Language,” “What Language Is (And What It Isn’t And What It Could Be),” “Our Magnificent Bastard Tonuge: The Untold Story of English” and “Defining Creole.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Republic: This American Dictionary Is Full of Words You’ve Never Heard Before — “We moderns process American English differently than women who wore slips, or the men who were warning them about their expsosure. These days, there is plenty of interest in non-standard language—but today, America slangs together more. Americanisms—geographically promiscuous items such as veggietwerkselfie, and ‘My bad!’—interest us more than regionalisms such as that people call smoking marijuana smoking out on the west coast but smoking up on the east.”

The Wall Street Journal: The Most Memorable Words of 2013 — “What’s the political word of the year? For months journalists couldn’t settle on how to describe the rollout of ObamaCare. ‘Failed,’ ‘disastrous,’ ‘unsuccessful.’ In the past few weeks they’ve settled on ‘botched.’ References to the botched rollout have appeared in this paper, The Hill, NBC, Fox, NPR, the New Republic, the Washington Post and other media outlets.”

The Boston Globe: Words of the Year: Where are they now? — “Word of the Year is more than a linguistic parlor game: It’s a snapshot of a year in the culture. And this is the perfect time of year to reflect on how good those snapshots turned out to be. A successful WOTY looks great in hindsight—the beginning of something big, or at least a resonant moment in our shared history. A failed one is more like an embarrassing Christmas photo with perm and reindeer sweater.”

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