The task for students in Introduction to Linguistics was simple. Find three new words—or old words used in a different way—that were being spoken by their peers, and bring them to Kim Armstrong's classroom.
Armstrong, associate professor of Spanish, also asked her students to bring along the history of those words to stimulate discussion. In what Armstrong calls a "funky, quirky little exercise," students eventually narrowed the list to 10 words they thought were most representative of F&M's student culture. Then it was up to their peers to vote on F&M's student "Word of the Year."
After 167 votes in an online poll earlier this semester, the class had a clear winner: "bromance."
"We've been studying English morphology, and word formation is part of this process," Armstrong says of her annual class exercise. "We study the pieces that make new words come together. It engenders a good deal of discussion as students pick words that they think are really relevant to the student body."
A blend of the words "brother" and "romance," a "bromance" refers to a close but nonsexual relationship between two men, according to the Collins English Dictionary.
The top words in the online poll were:
- Bromance 41.4%
- Swine 26.6%
- BTDubbs 9.5%
- Pwned 3%
- Crackberry 3%
- Tweet 3%
"Swine" is how many students refer to H1N1 influenza, or swine flu. "BTDubbs" is spoken slang for BTW, or "by the way."
"Pwned" is an Internet term originating from the word "owned," which was used in the 1980s to relate when a hacker would take remote control of another computer. "Crackberry" is a popular nickname for "BlackBerry," a wireless mobile device. A "tweet" is a micro-blog post on the Twitter social networking Web site.
The words represent the evolution of words over time, through daily conversation.
"That's the nature of language," Armstrong says. "It's constantly changing."