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Geek, twerking & cybernat among words of the year

The Big Bang Theory: The word geek was reinvented for technology age. Picture: Contributed

The Big Bang Theory: The word geek was reinvented for technology age. Picture: Contributed

  • by FRANK URQUHART
 

THEY have been ridiculed in the past as bespectacled nerds with a passion for the pointless.

But suddenly being a geek has become a source of pride with today’s announcement by Collins Dictionary that “geek” is Britain’s new “Word of the Year”.

Geek has come top of a list of the most popular words in the English language that have been submitted to the Collins online dictionary in 2013.

The illustrious list includes new words based on trends in pop culture, such as “twerking” “Cybernat” and “bitcoin”.

But geek has grabbed pole position because of its “positive makeover” since the word first entered the English language in the 19th century as another word for “simpleton” or bizarrely to describe a “sideshow performer who ate live animals”.

A spokeswoman for Collins explained: “Collins opened its online dictionary to public submissions in 2012, enabling people all over the world to join them in monitoring how language constantly evolves through pop culture, events, and trends.

“Collins has chosen a shortlist of emerging words submitted by its users, including twerking and phablet, to capture the essence of 2013, but decided to appoint geek as its ‘Word of the Year’ following overwhelming support to change the main definition of the word geek to ‘a person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a specific subject.’

“In the 1980s, the word still had a negative connotation meaning someone who was nerdy and socially inept. However, from the late 20th century, due to the increasingly pivotal importance of technology in society, the word has come to mean a clever, switched-on, and cool person.

“Actress Olivia Munn has argued that being labelled a geek now means ‘having passion, power, intelligence’ and celebrity Simon Pegg has been identified with the geek phenomenon.”

Top words of 2013

Geek a person who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a specific subject.

Background: The new definition represents something of a triumph for a word that originally appeared in the 19th century as a variant of ‘geck’, meaning ‘a simpleton’.

In American slang the word came to mean a social misfit (and also, somewhat bizarrely, a sideshow performer who ate live animals), but it was advances in technology from the late 20th century onwards that brought about a transformation in its meaning.

First, it came to mean a person who was obsessive about the new technology (still retaining the overtones of social ineptitude), and then it came to be embraced by enthusiasts of technology as a positive term. In 2003 ‘a person who is preoccupied with or very knowledgeable about computing’ ousted ‘a boring and unattractive social misfit’ as the primary meaning of the word in the Collins Dictionary. However, the term has increasingly become one of pride, and it has also come to be applied to enthusiasms beyond the field of computing.

The word has appeared on T-shirts, celebrities such as Simon Pegg have identified with the geek phenomenon, while actress Olivia Munn has argued that being labelled a geek now means ‘having passion, power, intelligence’.

Twerking: Moving the hips up and down as part of an erotically suggestive dance.

backGround: A blend of ‘twist’ and ‘jerk’, the word became mainstream this year , being especially associated with recording artist Miley Cyrus.

Plebgate: A public scandal in which Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell is alleged to have insulted police on duty in Downing Street by calling them ‘plebs’.

backGround: Ongoing investigations into the police version of events in September 2012 kept this word in the headlines throughout 2013

Bitcoin: A digital currency exchanged by users of the internet.

background: Originally introduced in 2009, its value has increased dramatically this year as it has become more widely accepted by online retailers.

Phablet: A handheld computer that is larger than a smartphone but smaller than a tablet computer.

background: A blend of ‘phone’ and ‘tablet’, this is the latest stage in the evolution of the portable computer; examples include the Samsung Galaxy Note.

Fracker: A person or organisation involved in the extraction of shale gas through hydraulic fracturing.

background: This year the government gave its backing for fracking to resume after it had been banned in 2011 due to fears it might cause earthquakes.

Cybernat: A supporter of Scottish independence who is active on online forums.

background: A pun on ‘cybernaut’ and ‘nationalist’, the word emerged in May after Sir Chris Hoy received abuse in online forums.

Thigh gap: A gap between the top of the legs when a person stands with the feet together.

background: This controversial attribute is regarded as desirable in the fashion industry, but it can often only be achieved by excessive dieting.

Olinguito: An animal of the raccoon family, living in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador.

background: Discovered in August 2013, this creature is the first new species of carnivore to be identified in the western hemisphere in 35 years.

Black Friday: The day after Thanksgiving, considered as the start of the Christmas shopping season.

background: The American practice of offering promotions on items that might be purchased as Christmas gifts on this day has been adopted by UK online retailers

Payday lending: The practice of making short-term loans to people who are expected to repay them from their future earnings.

background: This phenomenon has been the subject of much media attention and criticism.

Harlem Shake: An internet craze in which people perform a comic sketch involving wild dancing.

background: This internet ‘meme’, involving dancing performed to the tune Harlem Shake by Baauer, went viral in February 2013.

 

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