For the past couple of weeks, digital screens located over the highways of Rhode Island have warned drivers about the new state law that bans texting while driving. Lost is the irony that drivers are basically reading a giant text message sent by the state. Still, the law makes a lot of sense, especially to those of us who commute long distances to work, dodging the texting, phoning, shaving, movie-watching, coffee-spilling, GPS navigator-adjusting traffic around us. The truth is that many Rhode Islanders should be banned from driving while driving, but taking away texting is a good start.
The law is also a good lead-in to this week’s blog, since “intexticated” (being distracted because you were texting on a cell phone while driving a vehicle) was recently announced as a 2009 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year finalist. According to the Web site, Urban Dictionary, the term has been around for a while and also means sending a drunken text message or photo to someone (sometimes accidentally, almost always regrettably). The Telegraph of London made note of a 29-year-old businesswoman who scrolled down her phone’s contact list to send a salacious “sextext” to her boyfriend “Dan,” only to realize to her horror by checking her outbox much later that she had instead solicited her “Dad.”
“Sexting,” or the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by cell phone, is in fact another Word of the Year finalist, proving the influence of technology on today’s lexicon. Other tech terms that made the dictionary were “hashtag” (the # sign added to a word or phrase that enables Twitter users to search for tweets that contain similarly tagged items or thematic sets), “netbook” (a small, portable laptop with limited memory) and “paywall” (a way of blocking access to a part of a Web site, which is only available to paying subscribers).
The economy is on everyone’s minds these days, reflected in the language as “freemium” (a business model in which some basic services are provided for free in the hope that users will be enticed to add premium features or content), “funemployed” (deciding to enjoy one’s newly unemployed status by taking trips, having fun or pursuing other interests) and “zombie bank” (a financial institution whose liabilities are greater than its assets, but which continues to operate because of government support).
Our growing concern about the environment has given rise to “green states” (where environmental laws are strict) and “brown states” (where they aren’t) – which seems like just another way of saying “blue” and “red” if you think about it. Another eco-word is “ecotown,” denoting a community built and run on environmentally friendly principles.
In the realm of politics and current affairs are the “birthers” (who don’t believe President Obama was born in the U.S.), “teabaggers” (who protest President Obama’s tax policies and stimulus package) and “death panel” (a theoretical body that determines which patients deserve to live when care is rationed or, alternatively, a weapon on an old “Star Trek” episode). Bridging the generation gap are “choice mom” (a person who chooses to be a single mother) and “Ardi” (for Ardipithecus ramidus, the oldest known hominid, discovered in Ethiopia during the 1990s and announced - “intexticated?" - to the public in 2009).
Novelty words include “deleb” (a dead celebrity) and “tramp stamp” (a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman).
The dictionary also cited two notable word clusters.
Twitterisms: Twitterati. Twitterature. Twitterverse. Twittersphere. Retweet. Tweetaholic. Twittermob. Twitterhea.
Obamaisms: Obamanomics. Obamarama. Obamasty. Obamacons. Obamanation. Obamafication. Obamanator. Obamalicious. Obamania. Obamacracy. Obamanon.
The winning Word of the Year was “unfriend,” the act of removing someone as a friend on a social networking site such as Facebook.
Left unsaid is if “unfriend” is the Word of the Year, what does that tell you about the year?
In the meantime, Half Shell would like to nominate Rhody for next year’s word cluster. Some examples:
Rhodyverse: Anything that myopically chronicles Rhode Island, including this blog; the Web site Quahog; Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool, Cool World column in The Providence Phoenix; the late, lamented OSO.com; the old Cox TV show, Rhode Trip; the Web site Art in Ruins; the store Only In Rhode Island; and folklorist Michael Bell, to name a few.
Rhodyrati: Celebrity Rhode Islanders, such as the Farrelly Brothers, Jhumpa Lahiri, Buddy Cianci and Mr. Potato Head.
Rhodyfication: Tangible proof of your Rhody cred, such as wearing a Narragansett Brewery Father’s Day tie, even when it isn’t Father’s Day, or carrying the business card of a R.I. State Trooper in your wallet, tucked behind your driver’s license, just in case.
Rhodylicious: Something only a Rhode Islander can truly appreciate, i.e. wiener joints, sleeping to the sound of a foghorn and weekly scandals.
Leading to this week’s question: What belongs in the Rhodyverse?