This year the Oxford University Press has named “omnishambles” as the “word that best reflects the mood of the year”. The OUP’s lexicographer Susie Dent said the word was chosen for its popularity as well as its “linguistic productivity”.
Like The Guardian‘s Alison Flood, I rather like the idea of a word of the year.
I like it because people too often forget the key lesson they learnt in English at school, that words are not only conduits of information, but also objects in their own right. This forgetfulness is the reason that we tend to read blog posts not poetry, news articles not essays.
We have become habituated to words as clear vessels for our inner thoughts, imagining that we can use a word effectively without considering its definitions, etymology, and various functions.
Already one can see people relishing attention on our means of communication. Don’t the phrases “linguistic productivity” and “aesthetic enthusiasm” have a pleasure of their own? And perhaps the more we nurture imaginative new forms of expression, the greater their relative growth will be.
This is lazy. And it’s also unenjoyable. It means we don’t attend in our daily life to what George Orwell calls “aesthetic enthusiasm”, or “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another”.
So while everyone has a little giggle at the crowning of a word of the year, and others join in with linguistic abnormalities (a comment on The Guardian’s article reads “As for omnishambles, it rolls off the tongue nicely but we already have a wonderful word that covers it: clusterfuck”) I think something more serious is happening: people are talking about words again.