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Street protest

Squeezed middle, hacktivism, Occupy, or facepalm: what makes a Word of the Year?

Every year, the dictionaries teams at Oxford University Press in the UK and the US put their heads together and come up with a Word (or Phrase) of the Year. And this year has been no different, although for the first time ever, the UK and US dictionaries teams have agreed on a global Word of the Year: a word which we feel has resonated on both sides of the pond.

What makes a word worthy of such an accolade?

The Word of the Year is a word or expression that we feel has attracted a great deal of interest in the year to date. It need not have been coined within the past twelve months and it does not have to be a word that will stick around for a good length of time. It may not currently be in our English dictionaries, and it may never be deemed common enough to be included. It simply has to be a word which we feel has been embraced by the general public this year and has lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.

What were this year’s contenders?

Protest was a huge inspiration in this year’s Word of the Year contest, and our shortlist in the UK included Arab Spring, Occupy, and hacktivism. Phone hacking also came close to the top spot, as did sodcasting, the practice of playing music through the loudspeaker of a mobile phone while in a public place.

Some more colourful contenders which were considered earlier in the selection process, but which didn’t quite cut the mustard, included: bunga bunga, as used in the context of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s infamous parties, crowdfunding, defined as the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, facepalm, a gesture in which the palm of one’s hand is brought to one’s face as an expression of dismay, exasperation, embarrassment, etc., and fracking, the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at a high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas.

But the award goes to …

Find out which word fought off this strong competition to be crowned Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2011.

We’ll give you a clue: it’s related to the financial crisis and was coined by the Labour leader Ed Miliband …

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