Just in time for holiday party chitchat, it's the official 2006 Word of the Year, named yesterday by the New Oxford American Dictionary. The big winner is not one word, but two: "carbon neutral," meaning a lifestyle sensitive to climate damage.
The "carbon neutral" among us drive hybrid cars, use fluorescent lights, dry their laundry on a clothesline, invest in "green" businesses and applaud solar power. Former Vice President Al Gore wore out the term this year in public speeches, not to mention his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." He even devised a "carbon calculator" for those who want to figure out whether their fossil-fueled ways contribute to global warming.
"This is kind of the World Series for us," said Erin McKean, editor in chief of the 250,000-entry dictionary. "We look for words which are important lexically and culturally. We each keep a running list, then we sit down and argue."
She led an editorial team that combed through news stories, blogs, technical journals and other sources to ferret out this year's crop of words that best defined cultural moments. Carbon neutral -- chosen as a prime example of "the greening of our culture and our language' -- will be added to an update scheduled for 2007.
"Occasionally, two or more words team up to be used as one, and they have their own grammatical requirements. You can't say, for example, 'carbon very neutral.' You must say 'very carbon neutral,' " Ms. McKean said, adding that one of the also-rans last year had three words -- "persistent vegetative state."
Meanwhile, runners-up for the top etymological honor include "CSA" (community-supported agriculture), "DRM" (digital rights management), "dwarf planet" (planetlike objects such as Pluto), "elbow bump" (the handshake alternative for hypochondriacs and "recommended by the World Health Organization"), and "fishapod," a newly discovered fossil that has features of both fish and land mammals.
There's also "pregaming," or boozing before attending a sports event or party where alcohol is banned or in short supply. Last but not least, there's "Islamofascism," which the editorial team deemed "a controversial term" equating modern Islamic movements with European fascist movements of the early 20th century.
There is some competition out there to recognize the buzzwords du jour, though -- a whole dictionary, in fact. John Walston's newly published "The Buzzword Dictionary" demystifies 1,000 examples of what he calls "pompous jargon."
Among the newest offerings: "M&Ms," or "entry-level employees fresh out of college who fancy themselves 'management material,' " "SEP" (someone else's problem), "job spill" (when work cuts into personal time), "YOYO" (You're on Your Own) and "flog" -- a fake blog created solely for promotional purposes by unscrupulous promoters.