British Queen celebrates



Every year, the dictionaries teams at Oxford University Press in the UK and the US put their heads together and come up with a Word (or Phrase) of the Year. This year, for the first time, both the UK and US teams have agreed on a global Word of the Year: squeezed middle.

While squeezed middle is British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband's term for those seen as bearing the brunt of government tax burdens while having the least with which to relieve it, the Word of the Year committee in the US felt it had good resonance in the US, as well. Susie Dent, spokesperson for Oxford Dictionaries, said: "The speed with which squeezed middle has taken root, and the likelihood of its endurance while anxieties deepen, made it a good global candidate for Word of the Year."

This year saw a particularly strong shortlist of contenders for Word of the Year. The shortlisted words for the US and UK differ, reflecting differences between more local issues and culture. In alphabetical order, here is the US selection of shortlisted words:

Arab Spring n.: a series of anti-government uprisings in various countries in North Africa and the Middle East, beginning in Tunisia in December 2010. [After Prague Spring, denoting the 1968 reform movement in Czechoslovakia.]

Bunga bunga n.: used in reference to parties hosted by the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, at which various illicit sexual activities were alleged to have taken place.

Clicktivism n.: the use of social media and other online methods to promote a cause. [Blend of click and activism.]

Crowdfunding n.: the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet. [After crowdsourcing.]

Fracking n.: the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas. [Shortened < hydraulic fracturing.]

Gamification n.: the application of concepts and techniques from games to other areas of activity, for instance as an online marketing technique.

Occupy n.: the name given to an international movement protesting against perceived economic injustice by occupying buildings or public places and staying there for an extended period of time. [From the imperative form of the verb occupy, as in the phrase Occupy Wall Street.]

The 99 percent: the bottom 99% of income earners, regarded collectively.

Tiger mother n.: a demanding mother who pushes her children to high achievement using methods regarded as typical of Asian childrearing. [Coined by Amy Chua in her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.]

Sifi n.: a bank or other financial institution regarded as so vital to the functioning of the overall economy that it cannot be allowed to fail. [Acronym from systemically important financial institution.  Pronounced "SIFF-ee", rhyming with "jiffy".]


About the Oxford Word of the Year

Among their other activities, lexicographers at Oxford University Press track how the vocabulary of the English language is changing from year to year. Every year, a 'Word of the Year' is debated and chosen, with the selection made to reflect the ethos of the year and its lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.

Why did you choose a word that is actually two words? 

From a dictionary-maker's point of view, a two-word expression is called a 'compound' and is treated as one word [a 'headword'] in the dictionary. This is not the first time that a two-word expression has been selected as our WOTY. In 2010, the UK Word of the Year was big society.


Oxford Word of the Year in the US and the UK

Usually, the UK and US dictionary teams choose different Words of the Year because each country's vocabulary develops in different ways, according to what is happening in the news and in culture. However, this year it was felt that given the transatlantic nature of the squeezed middle, and the fact that there is evidence of the term's use in both countries, it was appropriate to both have the same Word of the Year. Please note that the shortlisted words differ, however, reflecting differences between more local issues and culture. For more information on the UK selection, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Who is on the team that chooses the WOTY? 

The selection team is made up of lexicographers and consultants to the dictionary team, and editorial, marketing, and publicity staff.

When will squeezed middle make its debut in Oxford dictionaries? 

There is no guarantee that squeezed middle will make it into an Oxford dictionary. Oxford's WOTY is simply a word that has made its mark during the year 2011, but it may be too soon to say if it will stand the test of time.  We are watching and keeping it under consideration for inclusion in Oxford's dictionaries. We always wait to see good evidence that a word or expression will stay the course before we include it in an Oxford dictionary. 

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SOURCE: Oxford University Press, photo by Literary Tourist