New Oxford Dictionary Names 'Unfriend' Word of the Year

The ubiquitous social networking site Facebook becomes further ingrained in the cultural consciousness as "unfriend" is selected by the New Oxford American Dictionary's 2009 Word of the Year.

In another sign the social networking behemoth Facebook is infiltrating every part of popular culture, the New Oxford American Dictionary announced "unfriend," the act of removing a contact from a user's list of friends on Facebook, has been selected the 2009 Word of the Year. The organization defines the word unfriend, a verb, as the act of "removing someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook."

Every year, the New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year is chosen, with the selection made to reflect "the ethos of the year and its lasting potential as a word of cultural significance and use." Other finalists for word of the year included technological terms such as "netbook," a smaller, less expensive version of a notebook, "intexticated," or distracted because texting on a cellphone while driving a vehicle, and the word describing the act of sending sexually suggestive (or explicit) words and pictures via mobile phone, known as "sexting."

Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford's U.S. dictionary program, said the winning word unfriend has both currency and potential longevity. "In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year," she said. "Most 'un-' prefixed words are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant), and there are certainly some familiar 'un-' verbs (uncap, unpack), but 'unfriend' is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of 'friend' that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!). Unfriend has real lex-appeal."

New Oxford also released a list of Twitter-related Notable Word Clusters for the year, including Tweetup, Twitterverse, Tweetaholic and Twitterhea. The organization selected two novelty words for 2009 as well: "Deleb", which describes a dead celebrity, and "tramp stamp", defined as "a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman."

Nominees for word of the year are broken down into several categories, including the aforementioned technology category, economy, politics and current affairs and environment. Nominees in the economy category included "funemployed," the state of taking advantage of being out of work, and "freemium," a business model in which some basic services are provided for free, with the aim of enticing users to pay for additional, premium features or content.

Many of the finalists selected in the politics category referenced President Obama, including "birther," a conspiracy theorist who challenges the president's U.S. birth certificate, and "death panel," a theoretical body popularized in part by former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin that determines which patients deserve to live, when care is rationed. New Oxford's word of the year in 2008 (bailout) and 2007 (subprime) both reflected the economic and political turbulence surrounding the worldwide economic meltdown. In the environment category, New Oxford selected "brown state," a state lacking strict environmental regulations, "green state," a state imposing strict regulations, and "ecotown," a town built and run on eco-friendly principles.