Monday, January 8, 2007

The word “surge” — combined most often with “troop” rather than “storm” or “power” these days — has considerable political currency and has been named one of last year’s most noteworthy words by the American Dialect Society.

It joins “pluto”, “Fox lips” and 30 other terms-du-jour on the group’s 17th annual list of words “newly prominent” in American culture.

“A lot of our membership tends to lean to the left and are very sensitive to the Bush administration’s use of the word ‘surge.’ They believe it is a way to hide a hard reality under something that seems much more acceptable,” said Wayne Glowka, an English professor at Georgia College & State University, who led the society’s 2006 word search.

Indeed, surge, defined as “an increase in troop strength,” was named among the year’s most euphemistic words, along with waterboarding, a form of torture meant to “simulate drowning.”

Surge, which pops up endlessly in press reports and will get considerable play tomorrow night in President Bush’s update on Iraq war strategy, has its critics.

“Democrats are seeking to cast surge as an escalation of the unpopular Iraq war. But a senior administration official says the White House views a potential surge as part of a broader political and economic strategy,” noted CNN correspondent Elaine Quijano yesterday.

“Why ‘surge’? Why not ‘escalate’? Waves surge and decline. Escalation sounds long term,” noted the network’s political analyst Bill Schneider on Friday. “Whatever you call it, sending more troops would provoke a political firestorm.”

Though the surge phenomenon has been mentioned in sporadic press reports since April, journalists did not go surge crazy until December after the Iraq Study Group released its report.

For all the fuss, surge is not the official Word of the Year, according to the assorted etymologists, grammarians and scholars who make up the 117-year-old American Dialect Society. That honor goes to pluto, meaning “to demote or devalue someone or something,” inspired by the International Astronomical Union’s ruling in the summer that Pluto was no longer a planet.

“I believe the nomination came in from outer space,” Mr. Glowka quipped.

Meanwhile, “Fox lips” was deemed one of the most unnecessary terms, meaning “lips colored and lined with makeup to seem more prominent, said of female anchors on Fox News,” the society noted in its awards announcement.

“Cambodian accessory,” defined as “Angelina Jolie’s adopted child who is Cambodian,” was deemed most outrageous, while “climate canary” was cited as most useful. Mr. Glowka said the phrase means “an organism or species whose poor health or declining numbers hint at a larger environmental catastrophe.”

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