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When is a word not a word?

When is a word not a word?

Possibly when it’s something named by Collins Dictionary as its word of the year for 2023. I’m afraid I have my doubts that you can call the winner, AI, a word.

An acronym it certainly is and I think there is a case for calling acronyms words when you can say them – think NASA, AWOL and UNICEF – but with AI you are just sounding the two letters, not saying a word.

But wait, you might interrupt, what about USA?

Well, I say that’s not a word [NAW] either.

I admit to being a little frightened of AI and what it can do. It can even write poetry, for example. Will AI become the new Anonymous?

Of course it can be put to good uses and Sir Paul McCartney has [sort of] used it to help create the Beatles’ “latest” recording, Now and Then.

I’m willing to suspend my discussion on whether AI is a word or not but, if it is, I think it’s a little lame for such an award anyway even though the dictionary publisher claims its use has quadrupled this year. If their main criterion is rapid wide use then, yes, but I expect more of the word itself.

Three words I mentioned last week [tittynope, nurdle, thunderplump] are more the kind of words I would like to see nominated for major awards. So, to see if I can salvage some hope, I’ll now share some of the other contenders, as revealed by Collins, for the 2023 award.

There is at least one acronym in their shortlist but it has the saving grace that you can say it, not just recite the letters. Ulez is an acronym for ultra-low emission zone, an urban area which only low-polluting vehicles can enter without having to pay a fee.

But let’s move away from acronyms and on to some of the actual words. Kiwi sports fans will probably be thrilled to hear that former Black Cap and now England cricket coach, Brendon McCullum, has given rise to a word. McCullum is commonly referred to as Baz so his excitingly aggressive style of cricket has given rise to the word Bazball.

I admit to not knowing whether it requires a capital letter but I have opted to give it one because of its proper noun derivation. McCullum himself is reported to regard the word as “silly”.

Greedflation was another contender. It means using high inflation as a reason or excuse to artificially raise prices of goods or services in order to increase corporate profits.

For nutritionists comes the word ultraprocessed which is applied to food that has been through complex industrial processes and often includes a number of ingredients with little or no nutritive value.

And a nepo baby is one who is seen as benefiting from nepotism by having famous parents.

Well, I don’t really like any of those. I’d much rather head indoors away from the risk of thunderplumps, leave a tasteful little tittynope on my plate at dinner and afterwards brush my teeth with a medium-sized nurdle of toothpaste.

Those are worthy words!

I also like brouhaha, doodlesac and bumfuzzle.

A fun way to end would be for you to match each word to the correct simple definition [they are jumbled]: bagpipes, confuse or fluster, noisy complaining.

Aren’t words fun! Well, except for AI [if it’s even a word].

Thanks to those who provided rhymes for orange, silver and purple. It seems clear that the reason your suggestions weren’t in my original source material is because they are either slang or from obscure dialects. That said, I would use them in an emergency.

Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.

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