I heard an NPR story yesterday about current usage of the word occupy and how its meaning has changed over time and in various contexts. The report said the American Dialect Society is considering occupy for its 2011 Word of the Year designation. Winning and downgrade are also in the running for Word of the Year.
The 2009 Word of the Year was tweet and the 2010 Word of the Year was app.
That was enough for me to start classes today with a brief explanation of the Word of the Year concept and a game of Hangman where we solved for those five words simultaneously. Students were totally into it, and the game lasted about five minutes. Interestingly, the classes seem to “get” why winning, app, and tweet were significant linguistic phenomena, but they needed a little help seeing why occupy and downgrade have contemporary importance. They were obviously more in touch with words from tech and pop culture domains than with those from economic and political current events.
This kind of linguistic awareness helps students think more carefully about the words they choose in various communication and rhetorical situations. What are some other ways to help students remain aware of the changing nature of language and the cultural influences on our language?