Europe's 'unword' of 2009

Article published on Dec. 22, 2009
Article published on Dec. 22, 2009

Unfortunately the words that appeared most often had some negative connotations, starting with the Unfriend, word of the year according to the New Oxford American University Press. In urban contexts, it's not unusual for new acquaintances to ask for your surname as soon as you meet so that they can 'add' you on social networking site Facebook immediately, and vice versa. Now, you can equally unfriend them for various reasons. Pitiful state of social affairs!

The words that appeared most often in many European languages are predictably recession, referendum and unemployment, which polluted press pages and remain topics for conversation on the whole continent, even at the year's end. This pessimistic point of view is being followed by one Latvian correspondent, who has chosen the word sabrukums (collapse) as the north-eastern European word of 2009. Taking into consideration the state’s situation, it's unsurprising. According to one Warsaw cafebabel team member, the word of the year should be suspense (niepewność), which follows all the crises - economic, political, medical…' It is this feeling which makes some qualities or phenomena more visible, for example the nepotism (népotisme), as proposed by one French correspondent - it's a problem which defines French politics to some extent today.

Speaking of politics, the European elections of summer 2009 played a huge role in the choice of the word politicians. One German word is Westerwilli; Willy being the little 'bee' friend of [Angela] Merkel - and Guido Westerwelle being the new minister of foreign affairs from the liberals: their party colours are yellow - liberals - and black - conservatives. Another German option is Kopftuchmädchen ('the headscarf girl'). This neologism was created by Thilo Sarrazin, board member of the German Bundesbank, who was speaking about immigrants and their attitude towards the state.

The Italians salute their prime minister Berlusconi by going for the word escort.  The Slovakians choose the word jazyk (language), what with the timeliness of a new law, 'which many people saw as an attempt to turn the language people speak into a weapon they can use against each other.' Cyrielle from Belgium shares the opinion by voting for the word uniformité, referring to the consistency in finding solutions to the conflicts which would be scarce in Albert II’s country because 'nobody can solve a conflict just for a matter of different languages (French, German and Dutch) used in the country, which is the situation in an important number of countries (Switzerland, Canada, Spain).' The Brussels cafebabel team chose the word identité (identity). The only optimistic point? Mauro from Catalonia believes that the word of the year should be hat-trick, after the three important victories of FC Barcelona. Well, at least Barca fans have no reason to complain about how 2009 went...