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Saturday, November 10th 2012

2:08 PM

Doubling Down on the Word of the Year

2012 is quickly drawing to a close, so it won't be long until the AMERICAN DIALECT SOCIETY hosts its annual meeting. It's set for early January in Boston, and the highlight is sure to be the selection of the 2012 Word of the Year (WOTY).

In 2010, the overall winner was "app" as the phrase "there's an app for that" became so ubiquitous that you might have wished for an app to make it go away. I correctly predicted that "app" stood a good chance of winning. The following year, I correctly predicted that "occupy" would be the 2011 Word of the Year, though I have to admit that pick was somewhat of a no-brainer as something somewhere was always under occupation.

So, let's see if I can continue the streak. Because there was no escaping the campaign trail, I believe that the 2012 WOTY will come from the field of politics. And oh, the choices we have! Just when you thought the voting was over...

Could the 2012 Word of the Year be "double down?" This phrase from the world of gambling was hijacked by politicians and political writers. To my mind, the phrase applied when one side said something that was roundly criticized and/or viewed with great skepticsm by the other side and/or by the media. If the first side continued to make the claim, perhaps even exaggerating it, it was said to be "doubling down." Whatever was said was what was meant and that's not gonna change. One example of "doubling down":  Mitt Romney continued to push his plan to balance the budget despite study after study and expert after expert that said the numbers just didn't add up.

Or, could the 2012 WOTY be "fiscal cliff?" Now that the election is over, there's a lot of talk about whether the president and Congress can or will work together to avoid a series of expiring tax cuts and budget cuts scheduled to take effect at the start of the New Year. Already, President Obama is doubling down on his campaign promise to "make the wealthy pay their fair share," while House Speaker John Boehner is doubling down on the GOP line of looking for revenue without raising taxes (which could mean eliminating deductions, such as the one for mortgage interest, that primarily benefit the middle class). The fiscal cliff has been around for a while, but it's on the front burner now, which could give it the momentum it needs to be the 2012 WOTY.

Wait. Did someone just say "momentum?" Another word heard from the campaign trail. President Obama had momentum through the spring and summer, and he got a little bounce after the Democratic Convention in September. Then came early October and the first presidential debate in Denver. Everyone agreed that Romney won and, suddenly he had momentum. The vice presidential debate followed and Joe Biden eked out a win. During ABC's post-debate analysis, George Stephanopoulos said that Biden had succeeded in stopping the GOP momentum. Two more presidential debates followed with President Obama scoring narrow victories in both. If Romney's momentum (a.k.a. "Romentum") hadn't stopped after the VP debate, surely the final two debates did the trick, right?

Maybe not. The GOP doubled down, insisting that Romney still had the momentum in the final two weeks leading up to the election. But, then came Superstorm Sandy. President Obama left the campaign trail for a few days to keep tabs on the Federal response. He also traveled to some of the hardest hit areas in New Jersey, where he was praised by Republican Governor Chris Christie, a key Romney supporter. Romney himself toned down his campaign rhetoric for a few days, too. Did Sandy stop the Romentum? Not if you listened to the Romney people. They kept saying they had the momentum, and they apparently felt so confident in that thought that they made a last-minute play for Pennsylvania, where polls consistently showed Pres. Obama with a lead.

The Romney camp should have been reading FiveThirtyEight, the outstanding blog that numbers whiz Nate Silver writes for the New York Times. (Or, maybe they were reading it, but just didn't like what they were seeing.) The last debate, the one about foreign policy, was on Monday, October 22. A few days later, Silver posted THIS entry which argued that polls showed that Romney's momentum had stalled sometime around October 12, the day after the vice presidential debate, a few days before the second presidential debate, and well before Sandy (which hadn't even happened when Silver wrote that column). By the time Sandy hit, the momentum was already with Obama and there wasn't enough time for Romney to get it back.

So, there are my top three picks for the American Dialect Society's 2012 Word of the Year: double down, fiscal cliff, momentum. Romentum could potentially get a few votes, but it's more likely to place in a subcategory than to rise to WOTY level. Other possible contenders include "legitimate rape" and "war on women."

I think I'm going to double down and go with "double down" as my predicted winner. Will my streak continue? We'll find out on January 4, 2013.
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