December 2, 2008 / 3:09 AM / 10 years ago

"Bailout," "change" crowned the words of 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - “Bailout” and “change” were crowned on Monday as the words of 2008 after a year in which a huge financial crisis hit the United States and Barack Obama celebrated a historic victory as the first U.S. black president.

Merriam-Webster Inc., the publisher of a leading U.S. dictionary, said “bailout” — meaning “a rescue from financial distress” — was the word that received the highest intensity of lookups over the shortest period of time.

John Morse, publisher of Merriam-Webster Inc., said this was not surprising given that the word ubiquitously featured in discussions of the presidency and fiscal policy.

He said the presidential campaign also produced voluminous hits for words like “vet,” which ranked second in the 2008 list, “bipartisan,” “misogyny,” and the word used to describe both candidates on the Republican ticket, “maverick.”

He said one of biggest event-related words of the year was “socialism” which came third in the list of the 10 top lookup requests.

“This word seems to have had two back-to-back boosts,” said Morse, from the Massachusetts-based publisher, in a statement.

“The first was the question of whether federal bailouts of large banks were tantamount to socialism, and the second was ‘Joe the Plumber’ and other critics saying that U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama’s economic plan was a form of socialism.”

Rounding out the top 10 list were “trepidation,” “precipice,” “rogue,” and “turmoil.”

A separate survey on words used in the media and on the Internet by Texas-based Global Language Monitor spotted similar trends, with “change” coming top of its list — the top political buzzword of the U.S. presidential campaign.

Global Language Monitor, which uses an algorithm to track words and phrases in the media and on the Internet, said “bailout” came second in its list but would have been higher if it had hit the media earlier than mid-September.

“Obamamania,” which describes the global reaction to Obama’s campaign and subsequent election victory, came third in the list followed by “greenwashing,” “surge,” “derivative,” “subprime,” and “foreclosure.”

Rounding out the top 10 were “Phelpsian,” referring to swimming champion Michael Phelps’ feat of winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and “Chinglish,” the often amusing Chinese-English hybrid that hit the headlines ahead of the Beijing games.

“Global English has been driven by three notable events during the course of 2008: the U.S. Presidential Election, the financial tsunami, and the Beijing Olympics,” said Paul JJ Payack, president of The Global Language Monitor.

He said “financial tsunami” was the top phrase of the year followed by “global warming” and Obama’s “Yes, We Can,” while the among the top 10 political names in the media in 2008 were Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Hillary Clinton.

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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