Word of the Year: The Middle Squeezes its Way to the Top

The Oxford English Dictionary has revealed its word of the year: squeezed middle (hey, that’s two words!).  Don’t ask me to define it. British Labor leader Ed Miliband ran into trouble doing that. Suffice to say, it refers to a class of people, who would appear to make up more than 90% of the population– and therefore the electorate. The implication is that despite their huge numbers, they are being economically squeezed– in a vise conspiratorially operated by the very rich and the very poor.

In previous years, OED editors have named a US word and a UK word. American English and British English are, after all, an ocean apart. This year, squeezed middle is the global winner, which is odd. As political rhetoric–  which is all this phrase really is– it’s been far more popular in the UK than in the US.

Also-rans this year include Arab Spring, occupy, clicktivism, bunga bunga and tiger mother.

I’m not sure what the Pakistan government’s position might be on any of those words. (I’m guessing they’d have a problem with bunga bunga.) But in the pod, we take a look at the government’s  move– now shelved– two ban nearly two thousand words from text messaging.  Most of the words are sexually frank, the usual nasty stuff. But many others are mild or just bizarre: flatulence, period, athlete’s foot, monkey crotch.  Urdu expressions meaning nonsense (buckwaas) and foolish (bewakoof) would also have been banned.

We round off the pod with a list of mainly invented words. These appear on the title track to Kate Bush’s new album, 50 Words For Snow. Bush knows there are not 50 words for snow, in English or any other language. (Eskimo languages are often credited with having up to 23 words for snow; they don’t.)  Bush plays on this myth by having collaborator Stephen Fry enunciate 50 words. Some are poetic English: drifting, swans-a melting, vanilla swarm. Some are just poetic: terrablizza, sleetspoot’n. psychohail, spangladasha. All these words, says Bush in the pod, had to her “a sense os meaning something that was evocative of snow.”

Listen via iTunes or here.


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2 responses to “Word of the Year: The Middle Squeezes its Way to the Top

  1. My personal favourite is terrablizza…it sounds very Italian 🙂

  2. Juewell Green

    Today I chose to listen to the “World of the Year: The Middle Squeezes its Way to the Top” podcast. I have to admit, this was thee most bizarre podcast that I listened to.
    To begin, Pakistan officials have attempted to band certain words that they deem “harmful, illegal or unethical” from coming through on cell phones. These officials plan to take “legal action” by compiling a list of words they feel are unacceptable and providing them to cell phone companies. How that would be done? I don’t know. As one woman put it, “what happened to Freedom of Expression?” Some of the words or phrases are ridiculous, such as athlete’s foot, woo tang, monkey crotch. Who would use these words in a derogatory way? It’s almost laughable, as many Pakistanis have not taken this seriously and also feel that the government is being way too controlling. Thankfully, the end of the podcast for this topic revealed that Pakistan has temporarily put banning these words on hold.

    The second topic discussed Refugees learning English in Fargo, ND without the assistance from English teachers. While initially interesting, I quickly became bored with this story. I feel that this was more about the effectiveness of using the software Rosetta Stone. Adult refugees are learning English with the help of volunteers instead of teachers. I feel the adults could learn even English even more effectively if taught by an English teacher, in addition to Rosetta Stone. It’s true, children do in fact learn foreign languages on a much faster rate than adults. They learn from teachers, so adults should learn the same way.

    Combining the final two topics, I believe these were really ridiculous topics, and a waste of time. It turns out that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) annually chooses a word or phrase of the year. Who thought of this, and how does this help me or other people for that matter? “Squeezed middle” are the two words of the year chosen by the OED, which is a way to distinguish middle class, average people from others, lower or higher. As pointed out during the podcast, with the example “Squeezed middle” describes hard pressed working families squeezed in the middle, these words don’t exclude to many people and it’s too vague. OED just needs to stop wasting money paying people or someone to come up with these and spend their time on more valuable ideas.
    The final topic talked about Kate Bush’s song “50 words for snow” featuring Steven Fry. I understand Bush writes songs about the most bizarre things. Well she can continue on with the same amount of fans she had before I suffered through listening to the last few minutes of this cast. Who cares about 50 words of snow, especially when some of the words are made up? Thank you.

    Juewell Green, student, Northern Virginia Community College. Reporting on “The World in Words” pod cast, by Patrick Cox, for CST 229-01 taught by Professor Tirpak.

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