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Monday, February 23, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Linguist group lists its top words of '03

By Marney Rich Keenan
The Detroit News

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If you are a "metrosexual," you might also be into "manscaping." If you're a "flexitarian," no doubt you've tried "tofurkey."

These are among the top words of 2003, so named by the American Dialect Society at its annual conference in Boston recently.

To translate: "metrosexual" — the winner of "the word or phrase which most colored the nation's language" — is a fashion-conscious heterosexual male, preoccupied with money, clothes and style, and "manscaping" is male body-shaving.

"Flexitarian," winner in the most useful category, is a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat; and "tofurkey" is a faux turkey created from tofu.

Every year boasts its own vocabulary, says Dennis Preston, a Michigan State University linguist and past president of the dialect society.

And while the words in the list aren't necessarily new (such as "spider hole," Saddam's camouflaged hideout, a term that goes back to World War II), they possess a new importance because of their cultural relevance.

"We are a group of serious lexicons," says Preston of the society. "Once a year, we decide to have a little fun and compile this list in a tongue-in-cheek fashion."

Nonetheless, the list reflects what we are thinking about as a culture. "They define what we love in any given year," Preston says, "what we hate, what we believe and what we choose not to believe."

Gay culture had a prominent impact on our verbiage last year. TV's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" spawned "zhuzh," which means to fluff up or primp. Hip-hop brought us the suffix "izzle" as in "televizzle" and "wait a minizzle." "Bling bling," as in flashy jewelry, has been clipped to "bling."

While 2002's winner was "weapons of mass destruction," 2003 brought us "weapons of mass deception," an entry Preston says he specifically voted for because it reflected a desire to lessen the nation's collective anxiety.

Just how many of these terms have the staying power to make it into U.S. dictionaries in the future is not known; the jury is still out on previous years' words, such as "chad," "blog" and "Iraqnophobia." But, despite the cringing of grammar purists, our love affair with slang lives on.

"Slang persists precisely because we resist the admonishments of the English teacher," Preston says. "It's the way we like to talk with our friends."


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