As another anniversary of 9/11 comes and goes, and wars relating to those events rage on, I thought it would be interesting to look back at how the events of 2001 changed the words we use.
Nine-eleven is the slang we use to put this tragedy in perspective. Geoffrey Nunberg, a Stanford University linguist, says, “There’s a need to package things, to label them, to get a handle on them.” The American Dialect Society made 9/11 its word of the year in 2001.
Some other words that were in the running that year were: cuddle puddle (a pile of ecstasy users on the floor), Ground Zero (where the attacks in New York City happened), Let’s Roll (the phrase allegedly used by Todd Beamer to rally against the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93), Evil Doers (former President George W. Bush’s phrase for those who perpetuated the attacks) and Post September 11 (to mean the way the world had changed after the attacks).
According to Arthur Spiegelman of the Los Angeles Newsdesk at Reuters, YourDictionary.com came up with a list of the top 10 words for 2001. They were:
- Ground Zero – the now sanctified ground at the epicenter of the World Trade Center disaster
- Former President George Bush’s middle initial “W” – pronounced Dubya and often used in a derogatory way
- Jihad – the Arabic word for “struggle” but which is used today as “Holy War”
- God, Allah or Yahweh – listed with the note that the name had been in more headlines and on the lips of more politicians than any time in recent memory
- Anthrax – the dangerous spores carrying infectious disease sent to politicians in an envelope and said to be “weaponized”
- Euro – Europe’s new currency at the time
- Wizard – this was added because of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter craze
- The suffix -stan – as in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in a parody cover by the New Yorker of New Yorkistan showing areas labeled Irant and Irate, Taxistan and Fuhgeddabuditstan
- Oprahization – the tendency of public and private citizens to discuss their personal problems or feelings in public forums, especially talk shows like Oprah’s long-running television show
- Foot-and-mouth – referring to the disease (and not what Dubya often found himself doing)
It was a terrible day and I remember it well. I wanted to take a moment to think about the way it changed our lives and our language.