The Words of the Year (New York Times Week In Review)

The Justin Bieber, Shellacking, Vuvuzela: Three new additions to the lexicon.

By SAM SIFTON and GRANT BARRETT

There are buzzwords and there are great words. (Retweet.)

Vuvuzela is a great word, one of the best to enter American popular culture in 2010, though it sounds nothing like an actual vuvuzela. A vuvuzela sounds like a long, droning moan, a sound full of garbage and tennis balls.

The vuvuzela’s long, plastic barrel provided Americans with the junk shot of sounds this year, the sort of noise you could hear even through a containment dome placed over a gushing underwater oil well owned by BP. (Though if you take a vuvuzela to the airport, you’re going to get an enhanced pat-down, sure as we could be entering a double-dip recession.)

Close your eyes while someone blows a vuvuzela and you can see all this clearly, as if it were playing on a spill-cam over your Web browser at work. Open them and it’s just a World Cup game highlight (speaking of great words: Uruguay vs. Ghana).

And the oil kept coming, all summer long, and with it new words — top kill, static kill, bottom kill — that meant failure, until at bottom they didn’t. (There may be put-backs for mortgage bonds. It doesn’t work so well with oil.)

Everyone was glad that the fish kill wasn’t as bad as it might have been. Dispersants may have worked. But the blowout preventer did not.

Refudiate is almost a better word than vuvuzela, because it’s not so much a real word as a neologism, one much of America attributes to Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, who used it in a Twitter message in July. (She took a real shellacking for that.) The Oxford University Press called it the word of the year.

But refudiate was not Ms. Palin’s word first, even if she unpacked the portmanteau all by her lonesome. David Segal of The New York Times had it in print in late June, in an article about people who sell marijuana for a living. They are not easy to interview.

“Simple yes-or-no questions yield 10-minute soliloquies,” he wrote. “Words are coined on the spot, like ‘refudiate,’ and regular words are used in ways that make sense only in context.”

It’s like a halfalogue, talking to those guys.

Speaking of, did you see “Inception”? (Can Ms. Palin refudiate a claim that she took the word refudiate from a sleeping marijuana salesman?) Did you i-dose on Justin Bieber videos (I’m a Belieber!) or contemplate becoming one of the Hollywood star whackers who sent Randy Quaid around a bend and up to Canada to seek asylum? Did you weep along with HungryBear’s double rainbow on YouTube, then seek double rainbows yourself?

Most important of all, did you stand for or against the ground zero mosque near the ground zero Century 21, some blocks away from ground zero itself but almost directly next door to a bar?

G.Z.M. was a big word for 2010, until it was not. On that subject, there was quantitative easing as soon as the midterm elections were over.

QE2! — Sam Sifton

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