December 15, 2005

Refugee, tsunami top US word of the year list

By Arthur Spiegelman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Refugee was named word of the year
on Thursday by a language monitoring group that cited the
political storm it created when used to describe the hundreds
of thousands in New Orleans who fled Hurricane Katrina.

The nonprofit Global Language Monitor named refugee to top
its annual list. It was followed by tsunami, Katrina, pope and
"Chinglish," which describes the "new second language of
China." "Out of the Mainstream" was named phrase of the year
and "OK" the most universally used word.

Global Language Monitor head Paul JJ Payack said refugee,
which was used five times more often than other words to
describe those made homeless by Katrina, triggered a debate on
race and political correctness.

Civil Rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson said using the
term to describe the mostly poor and black citizens of New
Orleans made homeless by Katrina was "inaccurate, unfair and
racist" and implied that those using the term were prepared to
"see them as other than American."

President Bush opted to use "displaced citizens," saying
that "the people we're talking about are not refugees. They are
Americans." Several major newspapers dropped using the word and
others said they would use it cautiously.

Language expert William Safire said the word more often
than not is used to denote a person "who seeks refuge or asylum
in a foreign country to escape religious or political
persecution," rather than a person who simply seeks refuge from
a storm.

Tsunami, from the Japanese word for harbor wave, placed
second on the list of words. Payack noted that few would have
recognized the word before the Christmas Day 2004 disaster in
Southeast Asia.

Third was "Poppa/Papa/Pope" to mark the death of John Paul
II, followed by "Chinglish," "H5N1," the name for looming avian
flu pandemic, "recaille," a French word for riff-raff that
officials used to describe rioters in France. That was followed
by Katrina and "wiki," from the Hawaiian for "quick" and now
embraced on the Internet as a term for collaboration, as in the
Web site Wikipedia.

Ninth was SMS, or "Short Message Service," to connote the
more than one trillion text messages in 2005, and 10th was
"insurgent," which Payack described as a politically neutral
term used to describe enemy combatants.

"Out of the Mainstream," used to describe the ideology of a
political opponent, was the phrase of year, followed by bird
flu/avian flu; politically correct, which Payack said has now
emerged as a worldwide phenomenon; and North/South divide,
which describes global "haves and have nots."

Also included are the phrase list are "string theory," the
idea that the universe is constructed of 11 pulsating planes of
existence; "jumping the couch," to denote losing emotional
control and made popular by Tom Cruise's encounter with a couch
on the Oprah television show; and "deferred success," a new way
of describing failure.