Wordsmyth invites you to nominate a word, and advocate your selection in a short nominating essay.  Some words may be socially/culturally important, and other words may be significant for personal reasons.  Here are some tips for finding and writing about a word you think is important.

1. How to find a word to nominate for WOTY. 

First, meaning is the most important issue. Words aren’t simply strings of letters that communicate a code.  To be accepted as important words, they must be recognized as meaningful parts of our lives.

A variety of selection criteria have been used by various organizations that select a WOTY – such as the American Dialect Society (https://www.americandialect.org/woty) or dictionary companies such as Merriam-Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-of-the-year-2018-justice)  or Oxford (https://languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2018).   

But beyond meaningfulness, Wordsmyth doesn’t use any restrictive criteria for our Wordsmyth “Word of the Year” selections. So you can be imaginative and creative in your selection.

You can select a word to nominate in a variety of ways.

  1. Perhaps you have noticed a word that people seem to be using more frequently than in past years. This can be based on your experience, or on statistics such as Google’s Trends, based on search statistics (https://trends.google.com/trends/?geo=US ) or N-Gram Viewer, based on usage in books (https://books.google.com/ngrams)
  2. You can nominate a word that seems to be important in our national discourse – e.g., “collusion” or “single-payer healthcare” .  It can be a new idea, or an old idea that seems newly relevant.
  3. Has a word stuck in your mind for some reason — for example, how it sounds, or how it is often misused, or how it captures a feeling you have had? This might be an indication the word is worth nominating.
  4. Perhaps a word expresses an idea that is important to you – for example, “love” or “peace” or “commitment”.  Thinking of important ideas or feelings will help to bring to mind words that express them.
  5. Perhaps you have noticed a word being talked about or asked about – entering people’s “word consciousness”.  Sometimes people notice a word and talk about it when they are uncertain of its meaning, or when they think it is being misused. But in some cases awareness of a word can be related to nuances of meaning.
  6. You may think a particular word is over-used, or is used frequently, but shouldn’t be part of our discourse. For example, “shit hole country” is notable as a term that probably shouldn’t have been used, but because it was used by a prominent politician (President Trump), it entered our national discourse.

2. What to say about the word in your nomination essay.

There are several approaches to talking “about” a word.  Here are a few starting points.

  1. You could mention any feature of the word – its length, its spelling, its pronunciation, its range of meanings, the importance of a meaning … etc.  Or you could note some of the synonyms or related words, or features such as Word History, Word Parts, or Word Combinations.
  2. Perhaps you want to quarrel with the dictionary definition. For example, when Merriam-Webster chose “feminism” as its 2017 WOTY, one person decided the Merriam-Webster definition could use some work. So she came up with her own definition of “feminism” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUc2fxs-cGM
  3. You can discuss the relationship among different “senses” of a word. For example, one sense of the word “success” refers to “attainment of something desired or intended” while another sense indicates that it means “attainment of wealth or position”.  Which do you think of when you say you are seeking “success”? Is it important to acknowledge the different possible meanings?
  4. Why have you noticed the word you are nominating? Is it related to a conversation in your work life or home life, or did you notice it in reading you have done?
  5. Instead of asking about the different senses of a word, you can ask about the idea the word expresses. Is there a deeper meaning? For example, you can ask “what is poverty” instead of “what does the word ‘poverty’ mean?”. (This approach to definition is called “real definition”.)
  6. Try to understand the different grammatical patters a word fits into – for example, look at how the meaning of “interest” changes when you add “in”: “Mr. Jacobs isn’t very interesting; but it is in my interest to go to lunch with him”.

If you have other ideas for writing prompts that may help others in writing their WOTY nomination, please let us know. We’ll pass on your advice to the Wordsmyth community.