On Wednesday, The Global Language Monitor unveiled the results of its annual global survey: the top words and phrases of 2013 used in the English language. In what feels like a bad sign, "404" — the universal term for an internet failure — tops the list. Other contenders include "@Pontifex" (the pope's Twitter handle), "sequestration" (the budget cuts enacted by the U.S. government earlier this year), and "hashtag" (self-explanatory).
To come up with its master list of words, the GLM looks for terms that have over 25,000 citations worldwide. Using a tool called NarrativeTracker, the Texas-based organization analyzes blogs, social media, other Web outlets, and the world's top 275,000 print and electronic media sources. Then, the (probably exhausted) NarrativeTracker applies statistical analysis to come up with the resuilts: The words must have depth, which the GML defines as appearance in multiple forms of media, and breadth, which means that it must have been used across the planet.
Without further ado, here are the ten words English speakers all over the world thought were really important this year. (They might make you reconsider that optimistic outlook you were considering taking on.)
1. 404 — The near-universal code for failure on the global Internet.
2. Fail — The single word, often used as a complete sentence (Fail!) to signify failure of an effort, project, or endeavor.
3. Hashtag — The "number" symbol, reborn as the all-powerful Twitter hashtag.
4. @Pontifex — The Twitter dwelling of the ever-more popular Pope Francis.
5. The Optic — The "optic" is threatening to overtake "the narrative," just as the narrative overtook rational discourse. Does not bode well for informed political discussion.
6. Surveillance — This year's revelation of the unprecedented degree of spying courtesy of the NSA, into both the lives of ordinary Americans and the leaders of America's closest allies.
7. Drones — Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that are piloted remotely or by on-board computers used for killing scores or even hundreds of those considered enemy combatants of the US.
8. Deficit — Looks like deficit-spending will plague Western democracies for at least the next decade. Note to economists of all stripes: reducing the rate of increase of deficit spending still increases the deficit.
9. Sequestration — Middle English sequestren, from Latin sequestrare: to hide away or isolate, or to give up for safekeeping. Also, U.S. federal budget cuts.
10. Emancipate — Grows in importance worldwide, as more women and children are enslaved in various forms of involuntary servitude.
Runners-up included "filibuster," "meme," "the Cloud," and, of course, "twerking." The survey also included lists of the top phrases in the English-speaking world, the top five of which are:
1. Toxic Politics — American-style scorch-and-burn political campaigns, becoming the norm for democracies worldwide.
2. Federal Shutdown — To the Founders it was a delicate balancing of powers. A generation ago it was called Checks and Balances. Today, we call it Federal Shutdown.
3. Global Warming/Climate Change — The existence of the Bering Land Bridge 20,000 years ago suggests that the oceans were some 100 meters lower than today.
4. Federal Deficit — The difference between what the government takes in and what it spends. Ten of the twelve largest global economies are running large deficits. The exceptions? China and Germany.
5. Tread Lightly — The advice from Walter White of television’s Breaking Bad. Apparently speaks volumes to many in the 21st century.
Well, at least our number two word, "fail," is appropriate here...
Images: Hayley Saltzman, Github