After a year dominated by upstarts like "selfie," "bitcoin" and "twerk," the American Dialect Society's Word of the Year honor for 2013 has gone to a seemingly old-hat vocabulary item: "because."
Increasingly used to introduce a noun or adjective rather than a full clause -- as in "because tired" or "because awesome" -- "because" won in a landslide at the society's annual meeting in Minneapolis, garnering 127 of 175 votes, well ahead of the runner-up, "slash" (as in "come and visit slash stay"). It also triumphed in the "most useful" category, ahead of nominees like "struggle bus" (as in, "I'm riding the struggle bus," a metaphore for a difficult situation) and "ACC," or "aggressive carbon copy," which refers to using email to undermine the position of the recipient by, say, cc'ing the boss.
Ben Zimmer, chairman of the dialect society's new words committee, explained that casual online usage had transformed "because."
"No longer does 'because' have to be followed by 'of' or a full clause," he said in a statement. "Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like 'because science' or 'because reasons.' You might not go to a party 'because tired.' As one supporter put it, "because" should be word of the year 'because useful!'"
In other categories:
Most unnecessary: The society also hung laurels on a number of other words. "Sharknado" won the "most unnecessary" category with 162 votes, crushing second-place finisher "cronut" (18 votes, presumably cast by people who have been able to secure one of the sought-after croissant slash doughnuts). Also nominated was "stack-ranking," a method of ranking employees on a primitive curve (used and abandoned by Microsoft).
Most creative: "Catfish," meaning to misrepresent oneself online, won in the "most creative" category. Other nominees included "bitcoin," an anonymous, decentralized, digital, encrypted currency and payment system; "doge," an Internet meme with intentionally ungrammatical exclamations over an image of a dog (typically the Shiba Inu breed); and "robo sapiens," a class of robots with human-like intelligence.
Most euphemistic: "Least untruthful," used by the national intelligence director, James R. Clapper Jr., in June to describe statements he had made to Congress, was deemed "most euphemistic." Other nominees included "demised," laid off from employment (used by the bank HSBC); and "slimdown," a reinterpretation of "shutdown" used on the Fox News site.
Most outrageous: The winner was "underbutt," the underside of the buttocks, made visible by certain shorts or underwear, with 54 of 110 votes. Other nominees were "revenge porn," vindictive posting of sexually explicit pictures of someone without consent; "fatberg," large deposit of fat, grease, and solid sewage found in London sewers; "s(c)hmeat" (blend of sheet + meat), meat product grown in a lab; and "thigh gap" (also "box gap"), a space between the thighs, taken by some as a sign of attractiveness.
Most likely to succeed: Winner was "binge-watch," to consume vast quantities of a single show or series of visual entertainment in one sitting, with 117 votes; "drone" (transitive verb), to target with a drone, typically in a lethal drone strike; "glass-hole," a person made oblivious by wearing Google Glass, a head-mounted computer; and Obamacare: term for the Affordable Care Act that has moved from pejorative to matter-of-fact shorthand.
Least likely to succeed: "Thanksgivukkah," confluence of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah that will not be repeated for another 70,000 years, got 159 votes, followed by "birthmas," a simultaneous celebration of a birthday and Christmas; and "Harlem Shake," a video meme featuring comic, convulsive dancing accompanied by excerpt of the song "Harlem Shake" by the DJ Baauer.
The American Dialect Society's website, americandialect.org, was used to supplement this story.