And the word of the year is…

w00t! Wait a second… the Merriam-Webster word of the year is w00t?

Expect cheers among hardcore online game enthusiasts when they learn Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year. Or, more accurately, expect them to ”w00t.”

”W00t,” a hybrid of letters and numbers used by gamers as an exclamation of happiness or triumph, topped all other terms in the Springfield-based dictionary publisher’s online poll for the word that best sums up 2007.

Right. OK, so I play a lot of online games–and have since the early 90s, which is when I remember first seeing people type “w00t!” after something good happened in the game. And I realize this whole “word of the year” thing is not much more a press-release opportunity anyway, based on an online poll; last year’s word was Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.” I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a whole bunch of gamers mobilized to vote for “w00t.” But as frivolous as it is, the news coverage kind of makes me cringe. It’s halfway to suggesting that “w00t” should actually be in the dictionary, which would make me bury my face in my hands.

I mean… I really love the fact that languages are living, evolving entities that change over time. I even wrote papers on diachronic linguistics and online language patterns when I was in school, and I’m one of those rare people who doesn’t think “ebonics” is a ridiculous or morally bankrupt idea at all. I’ve never been part of the William Safire school of thought that we ought to turn up our nose at incorrect usage and raise an eyebrow in a genteel manner at new words that might not stick around.

Still, though… w00t? Come on. I’ve said it myself any number of times, but it’s not even that great of a slang term. I suppose I wouldn’t have put pfft in the dictionary either, and apparently that’s in there. (Well… I would have defined it as “2. An interjection used to express disdain or dismissal.”) Maybe I’m just getting all twitchy at the thought of l33t speak words, all mixed up numbers and letters and punctuation, finding their way into the dictionary? Maybe I’m just remembering all the annoying gamer dudes yelling that while greedily scooping up their latest helm or gauntlets or gigantic sword or whatever. And maybe I’m just getting old and boring!

I did find this very amusing post on the origins of w00t–the comments are especially entertaining. (If you are a huge nerd.) For the record, I’m definitely with the people arguing that the current usage originated in hacker culture, spread via UNIX and early text-based online games (of which there are few if any written records), and then maybe gained wider currency and broader meanings after “Whoot! There It Is” became a popular refrain.


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34 Responses to And the word of the year is…

  1. Hector B. says:

    w00t? pwn pwns w00t.

  2. Eileen says:

    My favorite word of this year is also from the Colbert Report: ‘solitarity.’ As in, the tendency of people to respond to events (such as the aggressive tasing of a helpless person) by running home and blogging about them rather than uniting on the spot and doing something.

    It didn’t catch on though. Pity.

  3. Anatolia says:

    w00t?

    I think it’s “wewt” now, although by the time I’ve typed this out, wewt also will have gone out of vogue simply by the mere acknowledgement that it was ever in vogue.

  4. Holly says:

    the tendency of people to respond to events (such as the aggressive tasing of a helpless person) by running home and blogging about them rather than uniting on the spot and doing something.

    Hmm, we tried that here but all that happened was that we all got pepper sprayed and blogged about at on the scene then went home and blogged about it some more.

  5. Speck says:

    I’ve always felt that woot has this self-mocking connotation to it, kinda like saying ‘This is so nerdy of me to say, but I’m gonna say it anyway, just because. Nerd pride, yo.’ Very meta, but not a word I see anyone using in a serious context.

    Now “meh,” on the other hand…that’s long overdue for some recognition.

  6. annalouise says:

    w00t seems very 2-3 years ago to me.

    my favorite online word, in both unpronouncability and the depth of meaning contained is teh.

  7. drydock says:

    “Ebonics”, isn’t an incorrect use of English. It’s a dialect or variety of English. That said, the term became popularized because of an embarrassingly ignorant educational proposal by the Oakland school board back in the mid 90’s.

  8. Holly says:

    I actually don’t even think the Oakland school board proposal was that unreasonable. Widely misunderstood, yes.

    I’d like to see attempts at defining “teh.” Something having to do with deliberate misspelling in order to convey sarcasm? I’m sure that would take all the magic out of it. Not that I really think there’s all that much to begin with — even morseo than most slang, internet slang terms mostly gain cachet due to being mildly incomprehensible in-jokes. Now I’m going to get myself some donkey and some dro and get hyphy zooted.

  9. Tricia says:

    My co-workers (of the IT and Web design variety) and I have been making fun of how “behind-the-times” this is all day. Mostly by sending all of our non-official correspondence in out of date l33t vernacular.

    One of them suggested FTW as being more current, although as an acronym I guess it’s disqualified.

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  11. mythago says:

    Now “meh,” on the other hand…that’s long overdue for some recognition.

    Sure is!

    My kids tell me that ZOMG! (pronounced “Zohmug!”) and lolcatspeak are the thing now. They pity us, because we are old fossils from the days when people thought text adventures were cool.

    STATISTICAL CAT SEZ UR ONLINE POLL NOT RLIABLE KTHX

  12. Holly says:

    You forgot the “BAI” at the end, mythago. Get with the times.

  13. Karna says:

    Let me go on the record to say, if the lolcatspeak catches on enough to make me deal with it on a regular basis, I’m resigning from humanity. The grammar is what makes me only able to see about 2 at a time. IM speak is almost that way now, and I’m on the fence. I don’t know, I will apparently never be as linguistically welcoming as Holly-I tend to cringe when people make new words-like selfcare instead of caring for yourself. I have no good explanation for this. It just bothers me. My friends and I tended to make jokes in l33t speak. but not ever to use seriously. surely I’m not the only one behind the times out there?

  14. brandann says:

    second on “FTW”

    i thought “BAI” was me messing up l33t by accidentally writing chinese pinyin in the end…hahaha…i was cool and didn’t know it…

    now what did i do w/ that youtubery about making up new curse words in gaming…

  15. kactus says:

    I don’t understand these words that have numbers in the middle of them. I’m not trying to be funny, but I really can’t read them. I get stuck at the first number and I’m thinking “what?” WTF does l33t even mean? How do you pronounce it?

    My best friend’s email name is like that: 2ween. I asked her, “what does two ween mean?” And she’s almost 20 years younger than me so she just thought I was being funny, but I really had to nag her til she told me it was supposed to be pronounced “queen.”

    Whatever. I feel incipient crotchetiness coming on. You kids and your funny talk!

  16. Anna Phor says:

    “Truthiness” wasn’t Merriam-Webster’s WOTY last year — it was voted WOTY by the American Dialect Society, who are a competing word-honoring outfit. So you can never be sure how official your word of the year really is …

    And what Holly said about the Oakland resolution. If kids don’t speak standard English, I think it’s a fine idea to teach them, rather than pretending that they do.

  17. Holly says:

    Apparently Merriam-Webster adopted it as their 2006 word of the year too? Or are they just copycatting? Or is it all part of some huge wordspiracy? Hah, see. I just made up a new word: wordspiracy. It’s like a conspiracy… of words! Wow, this is SO FUN. Wait it’ll get even better if I misspell it and put some numbers in: word5picr4cy!

  18. Roxie says:

    kactus,

    3=e

    l33t=leet

    which is short for Elite.

  19. kactus says:

    Ok, thank you Roxie :)

  20. Luna says:

    I was using w00t as woo! + loot since about 1999.

    lolcatspeak bugs the hell out of me. On LJ, I have a English professor friend who uses it on occasion. GAH. Drives me apeshit.

    And I agree with the original about Ebonics, though it bugs me that it’s become the name of the dialect, when it was originally referring to the method of teaching it. Ebony + phonics. Hello. Sheesh.

    I like language change. The ever-changingness of language is what I like the most about it. However, being a crotchety old crab (but not a crabby old crotch), I only like it to change the way I like it to change! :)

  21. Isabel says:

    Holly: wiki and ye shall find! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teh

    I am a huge fan of lolcatspeak. Mostly because I am a huge fan of lolcats. I use it in IMs in that sort of semi-ironic wa (kind of like w00t i guess. for sincere delight I go with yay!). Especially “DO NOT WANT” and “i can has [insert object of desire here]?”

    But I am also 19. Geesh, you oldsters, always harshing our cool with your anti-lolcatism. DO NOT WANT!

  22. I’d like to put in a good word for “pleh”, please. “Pleh” has allowed me to articulate my attitude about a variety of circumstances with elegant efficiency.

  23. Ferox says:

    Finally, a threat revolving around leetspeak, in which I get to bring up the greatest band of the 90s, Tag Team!

    … it was “whoomp! there it is.”

    For what it’s worth, I only encountered w00t once it had become ironic. But I like to think, with hours long ago logged in WoW, that I helped forge some current lingo pre-irony! That will be my lasting partial legacy.

  24. Naadir Jeewa says:

    I’ve been w00ting since 2001. Lam3rz.

  25. The American Dialect Society voted “truthiness” the word of the year for 2005, one year before Merriam-Webster did. They are definitely behind the times–but that’s what they get for making their result of a popular vote. Most people are behind the times.

    By the way, I’m a VP of the American Dialect Society and author of the “amusing” post about the woot/w00t history. I’d love to be able to prove that the word was older than 1993 in hacker/gamer/IRC uses, but so far all the people insist that it is have provided zero hard evidence. There are a few uses of similar words before then, but they’re used differently and have no context to show that they are the same word as used today. Like all historical lexicographers, I work with what can be proven, and I try to limit the surmise, conjecture, and intuition to very small sentences buffered with lots of hedge words like perhaps, probably, maybe, unlikely, likely, seems, etc. So, the call for evidence is out! Bring the hard, incontrovertable evidence and change lexicographical history.

  26. Holly says:

    I’d have to have chat logs from MUDs in order to have any hard evidence, and at that point I think I was using a dumb terminal with practically no logging capabilities. Some people were already using more sophisticated clients that could dump to text files, but how many of those text files actually got saved? Most of the ones I remember seeing were logs of roleplaying sessions, in which “w00t” would have been a hideous faux pas.

    I understand the demand for a written record as tangible evidence to settle a point of debate, but surely you must understand how much that privileges some kinds of communication over others? I’m speaking more from the point of view of a linguist than a lexicographer — but there are innumerable points in history, cultures, and subcultures that rely mostly on an oral tradition or something like it, and words that only exist orally as opposed to being written down. In Japan, for instance, it’s much less likely that anyone would even write down oral slang than it is here. Hacker subculture was quasi-criminal, another aspect that doesn’t lend itself well to records.

    Anyway, I get the tendency to say “well, if it’s not written down it can’t be proved, so the official history is just what’s written,” but in the big picture, across time and cultures, that’s basically promoting falsehood via omission. Better to say that it’s unclear due to lack of evidence than stick to a theory that’s incomplete because it’s only based on the written. (And maybe you’re not sticking tenaciously to the “song” theory, in which case thumbs up.)

    I’d guess that the only real way to investigate this further would be for someone to conduct ethnographic interviews before people who used these words in the early 90s die. Again, that’s because I don’t necessary privilege something that’s published over the oral reports of actual speakers. (I mean, journalists are almost as unreliable, when you get down to it.) I’d hazard two conjectures: a linguistic ethnographer would find people who do remember using and hearing people use this word in computer contexts before 1994, and due to the simultaneous popularity of two versions of an almost-identical song, a majority of interviewees will recall the song phrase as “Whoomp! There it is” instead of “Whoot.” My informal polling of a dozen people strongly suggests that, and Ferox just a few posts upthread is another example. I think the “Whoomp!” version was simply a lot more popular.

    For instance, Googling for this phrase with variants that have a “t” sounds results in around 6000 hits total. Variants with a “p” result in about 71000 hits, with the majority being for “Whoomp” as suggested by Ferox and someone else in your thread. I mean, I guess it’s possible that the 10% “whoot” minority somehow were the ones that popularized the phrase online and kept the T as opposed to a P, which you would expect if it was a straightforward migration from a song to onlnie gaming. But I think it’s more likely that:

    a) some form of this utterance was in use in simultaneous computer-mediated communication contexts before 1994, although not in widespread enough use for it to spread onto Usenet or media with a higher degree of fixity;

    b) in 1994, a similar vocal utterance with a “p” on the end became very popular in totally different contexts

    c) as online games continued to grow in the mid-to-late 90s with Ultima Online, Everquest, etc, it was easier for the CMC utterance (“a”) to gain a wider foothold because more gamers had been exposed to a similar-sounding utterance via “b”

    Given that there’s some evidence for both “a” and “b” even if it’s not “written record” I think that’s a plausible hypothesis. Especially because I have actual memory of “a” in my brain circa 1992.

  27. Daomadan says:

    Meh. w00t is old. They should have gone with pwn/pwned or various other variations.

    Personally, I prefer ftw!

  28. GuyFromOhio says:

    early text-based online games (of which there are few if any written records)

    OK, that’s just funny.

    WTF is with w00t ? Never heard it before. ;)

  29. tannenburg says:

    Some future Edward Gibbon is going to cite this as the definitive point at which our civilization’s fall was inevitable.

    Still, it’s better than lead water pipes.

  30. Holly says:

    I know it sounds funny, but it’s true — and also true of a lot of early Internet culture, including tons of old web pages for which we have no records. Internet archiving projects like the wayback machine, etc. are pretty good at capturing some stuff, and the pages that still exist somewhere can be rendered properly if you have old software… but seriously, losing the ability to read and keep stuff in digital media is a huge problem that archivists and librarians have been talking about for years now. Microfiche? Microfilm? Floppy disks? Just the tip of the iceberg.

    And yeah, there’s really not that much that’s been kept of early IRC or MUDs etc. I mean, 90% of it was drek, but still.

  31. tannenburg says:

    Yeah, Holly…but think of it this way – what persists of the Internet is far more information about the banality of the average person than we’ve ever had in the historical record. For example, before the excavations of Pompeii we had Livy, Seutonius, and the other “classical” authors as our points of reference for Rome…and after the excavation, we found artifacts scratched on walls which wouldn’t look out of place in the average New York subway (“For a good time ask Marcus above Potter Street.”)

  32. House of Mayhem says:

    icanhascheezburger.com rulz

  33. Hector B. says:

    the Usenet archive, which is spotty before deja came on line back in 1995, has only one early reference to woot (that is not in a message written in Thai, Esperanto, Weanerisch, or Bahasa Indonesia), in 1993. Note that the reference is on a game group:

    Newsgroups: comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.flight-sim
    Path: gmd.de!rrz.uni-koeln.de!unidui!math.fu-berlin.de!xlink.net!sol.ctr.columbia.edu!news.kei.com!ub!acsu.buffalo.edu!ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu!v110mhwh
    From: v110m…@ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu (David M Stokes)
    Subject: AOE is INCREDIBLE!!!
    Message-ID:
    News-Software: VAX/VMS VNEWS 1.41
    Sender: n…@acsu.buffalo.edu
    Nntp-Posting-Host: ubvmsb.cc.buffalo.edu
    Organization: University at Buffalo
    Date: Mon, 20 Sep 1993 21:20:00 GMT
    Lines: 11

    I’m really hoping that someday soon I’ll see that subject heading up
    here… :( Yea I know how you feel. BASTARD! How could I?? Well
    we got a few guys here at work chewing their legs off waiting… since
    Feb if I can remember back that long… Oh well…

    Word! Woot there it is!

    Dave

    I am not responsible for anything.

  34. W. Kiernan says:

    “W00t” is antique! It’s the exclamation you utter when you telnet into somebody else’s computer and manage, by hook or by crook, to award yourself the privileges of the user “root”.

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