Americans who resolved to improve their vocabularies in 2011 can take heart. It was almost impossible to pay attention to the news this year without learning a new word or phrase, or perhaps learning new definitions for old standbys. To celebrate the new knowledge we all acquired in 2011, here is a list of 10 words that entered the national lexicon or gained new significance over the last year.
Origin: U.S. debt ceiling crisis
1. Colloquial term for Congress' Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, formed to forge bipartisan agreement around the debt-ceiling crisis. 2. Sometimes used ironically; given the committee's ultimate failure, "super" suddenly seemed like an unfortunate misnomer.
Origin: from Latin raptus; recent notable usage: Harold Camping
1. According to some Christian theology, the time during the second coming of Christ when the faithful will ascend to heaven. 2. An event that failed to happen in 2011, causing a big disappointment for Harold Camping and his followers.
Cone of Uncertainty (noun)
Origin: Countless forecasters during Hurricane Irene
1. The cone-shaped swath representing the breadth of possible paths that Hurricane Irene might have taken during her trip up the East Coast in August. 2. A reason to buy all of the bottled water at the grocery store. And Target. And the corner store. And the sidewalk vendors.
First known usage: 1881; recent notable usage: countless news articles about the Europe sovereign debt crisis.
1. The final actions in a larger process. 2. The eagerly-awaited roadmap for how the European sovereign debt crisis will play out, thus allowing the rest of the world to breathe easily again.
1. A phrase of indeterminate origin and meaning, often used in reference to the sexual exploits of Silvio Berlusconi, former prime minister of Italy. 2. Just one way in which Berlusconi embarrassed many Italians (see also Berlusconi's definition of "Tanned").
Origin: Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow's high propensity for praying midgame.
1. According to tebowing.com, a website that celebrates the practice, to "Tebow" is "to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different." 2. An Internet craze that explains all of those awkward-looking photos you see people taking everywhere.
Origin: Operation Fast and Furious
1. A law-enforcement tactic in which U.S. officials allow guns to "walk" across the border into Mexico in order to better identify arms traffickers working for Mexican drug cartels. 2. With the current scrutiny into Operation Fast and Furious, potentially the biggest embarrassment to date for Attorney General Eric Holder.
Human microphone (noun)
Origin: protests in the 1980s and 1990s; gained new prominence during Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park, New York City
1. A method of communicating. 1. A METHOD OF COMMUNICATING. 2. To a large audience. 2. TO A LARGE AUDIENCE. 3. When the police won't let you. 3. WHEN THE POLICE WON'T LET YOU. 4. Use megaphones and microphones. 4. USE MEGAPHONES AND MICROPHONES.
First known usage: 1933; recent notable usage: Rick Perry
1. A mangled but intentional mispronunciation of one of central Asia's "-stan" countries, presumably Uzbekistan. 2. A way of illustrating to one's voting base that one's lack of depth on foreign affairs may indeed be a selling point.