2013 -- The Year in Words

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Down in the cellar, waiting out a Sharknado, it occurred to me it’s already time to consider the words that gave 2013 its meaning, or lack thereof. Time sure flies.

Hybridizing killer cartilage fish and vicious Midwest weather phenomena was just one highlight among many of our linguistic year.

The Oxford Dictionary has already named its word of the year, “selfie.” It’s a photo of yourself, usually taken with a smartphone camera. I’m pretty sure the very first selfie was taken by Mathew Brady on a Civil War battlefield. He immediately posted it to Twitter. “Me at Antietam. ):”

OK, I made that up.


Personally, I liked some of Oxford’s runners-up. For instance, there’s “Schmeat,” a term describing synthetically created meat. It reminds me of my 2012 word(s) of the year, which I won’t repeat for fear of legal ramifications. But it rhymes with dink climb. I’ve said too much. Please eat delicious beef.

Another runner-up is “showrooming,” or the practice of browsing old school brick-and-mortar stores to see products in person before ordering cheaper ones online. But look out for "webrooming," or reverse showrooming, in 2014.

Under the always-popular gluttony category is the “Cronut,” a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. And yes, there is “twerk,” always twerk. Shaking its way toward cultural oblivion, with any luck.

Late in the year came the epic battle between “snark” and “smarm.” Snark’s been around, of course, with its acidic, snide and negative wit. But features editor for the online site Gawker, Tom Scocca, argues that critics of snark who call for civility and political paddycakes are peddling something even worse.

“What is smarm, exactly?” Scocca writes. “Smarm is a kind of performance — an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves ... Why, smarm asks, can’t everyone just be nicer?”

Malcolm Gladwell responds here.

The winner of snark and smarm moves on to battle utter indifference. Whatever.


In our neck of the woods, it seemed like the year passed us by like it was doing a “hard 90.”

“I’m doing right at a little over 90 and I’m not catching up on him, so he’s right in that ballpark somewhere,” said then-DCI Agent Larry Hedlund who coined the phrase as he tried to catch up with Gov. Terry Branstad’s speeding SUV.

In July, U.S. Rep. Steve King elevated the lowly but tasty “cantaloupe” to a prominent place in the fruit salad we call our important national debate.

“For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” King said, describing young, undocumented immigrants as only he can.

The fledgling drive to regulate and tax e-cigarettes in Iowa introduced us to “vaping,” the inhaling and exhaling of the nicotine-tinged liquid vapor e-cigs produce.

On the acronym front, LOST was found again, and voters opted to keep it around for 10 years. FEMA faded from view. And DOMA, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, was tossed on history’s scrap heap by the U.S. Supreme Court. “What it means is there’s no asterisk on our marriage,” said Kate Varnum, who, along with her wife, Trish Varnum, were lead plaintiffs in Iowa’s landmark 2009 lawsuit taking down a state ban on same-sex marriages.


In Cedar Rapids, “trustability” loomed large.

“I hope folks who have doubts about the trustability of the council come to the polls,” City council member Chuck Swore said in July. “There are six of us up for re-election. Throw us out.”

In the end, Swore was the lone incumbent to lose.

The council did much to build our word power. There was Council member Justin Shield’s August “colloquy,” a dialogue or conversation, on how local-option sales tax dollars would be spent on existing streets, not to build new ones. Also, “recusal” was very popular at City Hall, as council members with very active outside interests sought to dance around public conflicts of interest.

Mayor Ron Corbett, who once championed the “three-legged stool,” deployed another catchy three-part phrase to justify the city’s Santa-esque policy on business incentives. “In this community, we had a choice to be a fader, a maintainer or a gainer,” Corbett said in October. The gainer easily won re-election.

Not to be left out, the Cedar Rapids School Board’s facilities planning process depended on something called “group ideation.” I like good old “imagination” better, even if it means I lack creativity.


But in the end, I stole a word from last year’s word column.

That’s fitting, since the word is “cannibalization.” I predicted last December that the savage-sounding word describing how a Cedar Rapids casino would take business away from existing casinos could be a leading contender for word of the year in 2013. And hey, I was right. See, it happens.

“It’s far and away the most important issue we have to address,” said Jeff Lamberti, chairman of the Racing and Gaming Commission that will decide the fate of the Cedar Crossing casino. Who can argue with that?

I also think cannibalization fits with the “eat or be eaten” sensibilities of our times. We’re all just schmeat in the great sharknado, I always say. Starting today.

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