COLUMN: Top words of 2010: Spillcam is not what you think

This is my annual “top words of the year” column for the Dec. 26, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Thanks for reading and supporting my work in 2010! On to a new year of stories and possibilities. 

Top words of 2010: Spillcam is not what you think
By Aaron J. Brown

When I opened the list of top words and phrases released each year by the word watchdogs at Global Language Monitor I thought maybe, just maybe, we finally had a happy year. In recent years the top words have been refugee, incivility, bailout and tsunami. Other years have seen words like change, hybrid and sustainability – but that’s no comfort, only implying that such things are necessary. The top word for 2010 was “Spillcam.”

“Ha ha,” I thought! Dick van Dyke falling over the ottoman. Shaky YouTube video of kids falling off their skateboards or fat guys falling off their boats. These are spills on cam! Did I miss this trend? This idea is hilarious and so much happier and friendlier than the 2-3 ongoing wars.

Yeah, well, Spillcam refers to the round-the-clock footage of the foul, black BP oil spill belching underwater toxins into the Gulf of Mexico last summer. As we know the issue was resolved (RESOLVED!) and all the media stopped covering it, mostly out of fatigue, even though the oil is going to be there for decades. For months we had to watch guys like Sam Champion from Good Morning America pick up “tar balls” and wave them around incredulously. I have to wonder if Global Language Monitor didn’t select “tar ball” because its loyal readers would have jumped off an eight-story stack of reference books if they had.

So, we get Spillcam as the top word and that’s fine, considering that GLM’s top phrase for 2010 was “Anger and Rage.” Tar balls, anger and rage. This makes me wonder if we can sustain the current level of indignation for long. You know, it’s fair to say that in historical context America is still a young country. Are the last 10 years just some collective toddler temper tantrum on our part? China went through its share of turmoil in 1,000 years and now they seem to be doing well. Hu Jintao, China’s leader, is the top name of 2010, by the way, as his nation asserts its diplomatic, monetary and economic strength.

Returning to the top words for a moment, the #2-5 words for 2010 were, in order, vevuzela, the narrative, “refudiate,” and “Guido and Guidette.”

You might have to do some checking to know what a vevuzela does. These would be the loud, horn-like, noisemaking devices used during the 2010 World Cup Football (you know, soccer) tournament in South Africa. They were very loud. It was a big deal in some places!

“The narrative” refers to the new way of thinking about politics, public relations and advertising. We no longer vote for (or buy) specific policies, platforms or products, rather we accept “narratives.” For instance, some believe our national narrative is that we are a religious, predominantly Christian nation that believed in strict adherence to the exact words of the Constitution. Others believe that we are a unique nation eschewing national religion, adapting to cultural change, and accepting civil law and social responsibility. (The answer, of course, is BOTH! We’ve been bat crazy since 1776!)

Refudiate is the handiwork of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who combined the words refute and repudiate in a tweet about something or other and everyone starting yapping. Some say Sarah Palin represents the true American spirit, like a PTA mom with an SUV and a rifle on her wall. Others say she represents a threat to intellectual growth and social progress in this country. (The answer, again, is BOTH! And isn’t that interesting!)

The last of the top five words were Guido and Guidette, referring to the Italian-Americans who have made New Jersey such a fascinatingly vapid study of our nation’s woes in “Jersey Shore.” Times used to be that Guido was just a name for someone who probably worked hard for a living. I’ll continue hoping that the next year brings some better words.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and community college instructor from the Iron Range. Read more at or his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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