COLUMN: Apocalypse Then: Meet the top words of 2012

This is my Sunday column for the Dec. 30, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. The complete list of top words from the Global Language Monitor may be found here.

Apocalypse Then: Meet the top words of 2012
By Aaron J. Brown

Some say 2012 has been a rough year, but consider this. I used to have to look up the word “apocalypse” in order to spell it correctly, now it rolls off my fingertips like “the” or “a.”

The Global Language Monitor, an organization monitoring the use of words across the internet and major worldwide media, named “apocalypse” the top word of 2012. Yes, that’s right. The word for the end times described in most major world religious texts was hot, hot, hot this year. While it’s a little disappointing to see this happen in a year in which the actual apocalypse did NOT occur, there are several reasons for the selection.

Start with the rampant speculation about the expiration of an ancient Mayan calendar earlier this month and then add all the historic storms and international economic woes. This year, people dropped the word “apocalypse” like a street greeting, to the point that the real apocalypse will probably have to be phrased in the form of a pun for anyone to notice it. My nomination is “Actualpocalypse.” It’s too bad that, if it comes to this, my word will not be on the internet in time to trend.

“Deficit” finishes second on the GLM list. Deficit spending and long term debt plagued most Western democracies this year and there isn’t much prospect of this subsiding in the near future. On the bright side, “deficit” does not involve the belching fire of global death. Unless you are a Republican, of course, in which case this was a particularly hard year for you.

The Summer Olympics in London propelled “Olympiad” to the #3 spot. This quadrennial gathering of sweaty internationals in a city renowned for its comical chimney sweeps was the most positive thing on the Global Language Monitor radar this year.

Related to “apocalypse,” the #4 word trend was “Bak’tun,” the cyclical calendar of the Mayans many incorrectly believed foretold the end of the world. Naturally, scholars and actual Mayans were quick to point out that it’s just a calendar. The world doesn’t end when our “Hang in There” kitty calendars expire every Dec. 31, so it wouldn’t end in this case either. That didn’t stop people from freaking out, because people are, to varying degrees, idiots.

Continuing in this theme, #5 was “meme.” For newspaper readers, “meme” might be a new word to you. These would be the viral internet gags that spread like wildfire. A meme is more like an idea or concept than an individual joke. For instance, a cat playing a piano in a YouTube video might start a meme that goes on to include the same cat playing backup to Alicia Keys and, eventually, Billy Joel playing a concert in a cat suit.

No. 6, “MOOC” had my attention: Massive Open Online Class. You should know that I started my career as a newspaper reporter and editor before bailing to teach college just as print advertising revenue experienced, well, an apocalypse of sorts. Being familiar with online media, teaching online courses became a big part of my life. Well, these new “MOOC” concepts allow a sort of public commons approach to higher education poised to revolutionize the field I took up to avoid the previous revolution. In short, it looks like I’ll be doing tent show revivals and blacksmithing, just like my ancestors.

The words go on from there: The Cloud, Omnishambles and Frankenstorm. New technology and adorable ways to describe terrible things: that’s how we, as a people, roll. Gangnam Style. (Which is the top phrase of 2012, and if you don’t know that that means, get thee to YouTube).

All told, it’s (#20) “adorkable.”

Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes and hosts 91.7 KAXE’s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations.

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