Culture’s Influence on Language

Move over, “Bootylicious” – there’s a new generation of culturally influenced words earning spots on the pages of the English dictionary.

Did you know that the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary chose the phrase “squeezed middle” as the word of the year for 2011? If you’re unfamiliar with this term, also referred to as the “middle class squeeze,” it represents the situation in which wage increases fail to keep up with inflation rates for middle income earners; and at the same time have little to no effect on top wage earners.  In a year defined by major cutbacks and general economic turmoil, this word seemed fitting enough for PRNewser writer Tonya Garcia to address in her post this past week.

Garcia notes that etymologists from across the world have had a field day studying the Occupy movement and its effect on the English language this past year. “The terms ’99 percent’ and ‘one percent’ made their way into political speeches, marketing, and everyday talk in 2011.” Also on the list for the most-used words in 2011: “Occupy,” “Clicktivism” (using social media for the purpose of a cause), and “Gamification” (using gaming ideas and techniques for marketing and PR purposes).

It’s amazing to me to see cultural influence on everyday language – especially from the likes of pop culture, politics and digital media. In addition to Garcia’s list, there have been a few more additions to the English dictionary in the past few years that I believe directly correlate with online trends and behaviors, including:

  • Ego-surfing – The act of searching the internet for instances of one’s own name or links to one’s own content or website. (from Cracked)
  • Cyberslacking – Spending one’s employer’s Internet and email facilities for personal activities during working hours. (from Cracked)
  • Mouse Potato – A person who spends a great deal of time using a computer, (From Merriam-Webster)

What other unusual words or phrases have you seen trending all over the place this year? With the new year approaching and the inevitable political race swinging into high gear, are there any words or phrases you believe might find their way into the dictionary come next December? If you’ll excuse me now, this ego-surfing mouse potato is signing off before she’s scolded for cyberslacking.


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