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Aidan Wilson writes…

I am a big fan of the Macquarie dictionary. I am especially grateful to it because recently, it backed me up by listing ‘youse’ as a legitimate word in Australian English and thus defended my scrabble play (although I almost lost friends as a result). But in February each year for the past 6 years, Macquarie’s Word of the Year committee baffle me by selecting words that arguably haven’t been part of Australian usage, ever.

This year’s committee pick is burqini, a nice word, and as David Astle points out, an excellent word for use in scrabble, crosswords and of course, Letters and Numbers. But surely the WOTY should be a word that, during the preceding year, came to be used more and more by Australians. Burqini in my opinion, does not satisfy this most basic criterion – apart from one incident in which Nigella Lawson wore one during a trip to Bondi Beach in April 2011, and was photographed extensively in it. You’ll forgive me for not posting the pictures but you can go right ahead and google them.

The people’s choice award is much more on the money, if you ask me, this year selecting fracking as their WOTY. Fracking, if you haven’t heard of it, is short for hydraulic fracturing, a means of extracting gas from, among other sources, coal seam deposits. If you work in the mining industry, you’re most likely to know it by its delightful euphemism, well stimulation.

Not to be confused with frak(king), the cover-all swear word used in the Battlestar Galactica series, Fracking satisfies several criteria for WOTY: it is a recent coinage (despite being based on an otherwise older word), it’s phonaesthetically appropriate given that it sounds like a violent sexual assault, and most importantly, in the last 12 months, it has really increased in usage in Australia.

Burqini is a great word too, an obvious blend of burqa, ultimately from an Arabic verb meaning ‘to cover’, and bikini, which is actually a Marshallese place name, an atoll where the US detonated nuclear bombs – the item of clothing so named because it metaphorically exploded much like the bomb, apparently. But, and I may be wrong about this, it didn’t really take off after Nigella Lawson wore one, at least not to the extent that warrants this meaningless accolade.

By the way, you can buy burqinis from this Sydney online store, which incidentally has registered the trademarks burqini and hijood, the hijab sports hood, and may well therefore be credited with the coinage of the word in the first place, although without the great Google Timeline feature, it’s very difficult to find out for sure.

Looking through the older Words of the Year, I find that I disagree with the committee more often than not, although the people’s choice often doesn’t get it right either.

Committee’s choice: googleganger
People’s choice: shockumentary
Honorable mention: vuvuzela (this should have been a shoe-in)

Committee’s choice: shovel-ready
People’s choice: tweet
Honorable mentions: heritage media, petrichor, head-nodder (i.e., the people who stand behind politicians at photo ops and nod enthusiastically), cyberbully, roar factor

Committee’s choice: toxic-debt
People’s choice: flashpacker (i.e. a flash backpacker. Not a great choice, especially in the year in which bromance was also nominated)
Honorable mentions: bromance, textaholic, guerilla gardener, lawfare

Committee’s choice: podslurping
People’s choice: password fatigue
Honorable mentions: infomania, carbon footprint

2006 (inaugural):
Committee’s choice: muffin-top
(No people’s choice award)
Honorable mentions: affluenza, administrivia, plausible deniability

So tell me your thoughts. Did the committee get it right this year, or any year? Did the People’s choice better reflect the Word of the Year? Or are the both well-and-truly off track?

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