Nov 12

Word of the Year 2012: My ‘Super’ Pick

Now that the year is winding down, dictionaries and language societies are picking or narrowing down their choices for word of the year (WOTY).

The Oxford English Dictionary’s pick for the UK was omnishambles, “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations,” while their U.S. choice was GIF as a verb, “to create a GIF file of (an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event),” which some people found “huh?” but makes sense in terms of the popularity of the animated GIF.

Dictionary.com’s word of the year was bluster while Jen Doll, a great writer at The Atlantic, rounded up several favorites. The American Dialect Society‘s nominees include YOLO, fiscal cliff, Frankenstorm, double down, Gangam style, and mansplaining. (In case you’re wondering, phrases are fine as words of the year, as are words that aren’t “in the dictionary,” prefixes,  and letters).

At first I loved malarkey as word of the year, because of Joe Biden’s use of it in the Vice Presidential debate, and because it summed up the sometimes ridiculous state of politics this year. But then I saw someone tweet super-PAC as WOTY possibility, and I thought, What about super? Superstorm Sandy had just wreaked havoc on the east coast. I had just read something about a supermax security prison, and someone had just told me something about the supermajority. Super- seemed to be everywhere.

Doing some more research (ie, Googling), I found that this year super- as a prefix seemed to play a large role in politics, the weather,  science, current events, and pop culture. Super- it would be.

Here’s a closer work at some super- words that figured prevalently in 2012.


“Monster waves hit two New York harbors Oct. 29 due to Hurricane Sandy, putting the superstorm in the record books yet again.”

Hurricane Sandy Smashes Ocean Wave Records,” Our Amazing Planet, November 14, 2012

Superstorm is “a subjective term for any storm that is extremely and unusually destructive,” and was used by the media to describe the hurricane that devastated much of the east coast last month. The last storm to be described as such was the 1993 Storm of the Century.


“Known as a super-PAC, such a group isn’t limited by campaign finance laws and donation limits, though federal law prohibits coordination between super-PACs and candidates.”

Christopher Palmeri and Beth Jinks, “Gingrich Gets Boost From Casino Billionaire’s $10 Million Bet,” Bloomberg Businessweek, January 30, 2012

A super-PAC “may not make contributions to candidate campaigns or parties, but may engage in unlimited political spending independently of the campaigns,” and unlike traditional political action committees, “can raise funds from corporations, unions and other groups, and from individuals, without legal limits.”

Super-PACs came about in 2010, but played a major role in the this year’s Presidential election, “spending more than the candidates’ election campaigns in the Republican primaries.” Stephen Colbert started a super-PAC called Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.


“With supermajorities in both houses of the state Legislature, Democrats have a historic opportunity to push their agenda on issues such as tax reform, workers’ rights and changing the initiative process.”

Democrats’ new legislative supermajority holds promise, peril,” San Francisco Examiner, November 16, 2012

A supermajority is “a specified majority of votes, such as 60 percent, required to approve a motion or pass legislation,” as opposed to a simple majority of more than 50 percent. In October, Mitt Romney perpetuated the supermajority myth, saying “that President Obama should have gotten more done during his first two years in office because he had a supermajority in the Senate,” when in fact he didn’t have two years’ of supermajority, which, by the way, he would have needed to stop “the Republicans’ unprecedented use of the filibuster as an obstruction tactic,” which they’ve used “more than 400 times.”

In November, Democrats won supermajority in California and Illinois, leaving “all but three states—Iowa, Kentucky and New Hampshire—[with] one-party control of their legislatures, the highest mark since 1928.”


“Unlike Rockview, SCI-Greene is a Supermax facility designed to house some of Pennsylvania’s most dangerous criminals. One of the state’s two death rows is located there. Sandusky will be put in protective custody, which will keep him isolated from other prisoners.”

Dan Wetzel, “Jerry Sandusky’s Slim Chance for Appeal Hurt by Decision to Send Him to Supermax Prison,” Yahoo! News, November 2, 2012

Supermax refers to a super-maximum security prison, units within a prison which “provide long term, segregated housing for inmates classified as the highest security risks in the prison system — the ‘worst of the worst’ criminals.”

In June, NPR ran a story about ADX-Florence in Colorado, “what’s known as a supermax facility where many inmates are housed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day,” and a lawsuit which “alleges severe abuse of federal prisoners” there, charging the government with violations of “the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.”


“But on Saturday, at Ciudad de las Ideas, an annual conference about big ideas held in Puebla, Mexico, and sponsored by Grupo Salinas, astronomer Dimitar Sasselov gave us non-scientists permission to be excited about last week’s news that a new so-called ‘super Earth’ christened HD 40307g has been discovered 42 light-years away.”

Torie Bosch, “Dimitar Sasselov: Enjoy the Discoveries of Earth-Like Planets While They Last,” Slate, November 12, 2012

A super-Earth is “an extrasolar planet with a mass higher than Earth’s, but substantially below the mass of the Solar System’s smaller gas giants Uranus and Neptune.” The term “refers only to the mass of the planet, and does not imply anything about the surface conditions or habitability.”

The super-Earth discovered in November exists in what’s called the Goldilocks zone, an area “not too close to its sun, not too far [and] believed to be capable of supporting life.” Another super-Earth was discovered in February of this year.

In other super-planetary news, there was a recent discovery of a super-Jupiter, which has “a mass about 12.8 times greater than Jupiter’s,” and let’s not forget the supermoon back in May.


“Ever seen a ‘supercut’? It’s an obsessive montage created by aggregating a series of phrases, actions or cliches from a film or TV show into a massive video montage.”

Jenna Wortham, “Meme Alert: Supercuts, Obsessive Fan Montages,” Wired, April 14, 2008

While animated GIFs were all the rage this year, supercuts (not the hairchopping place) were a close second. They’ve been around for a while, but this year they seemed to be everywhere, from Fandor’s Spielberg face compilation at the end of 2011; to these Sorkinisms; to Nic Cage losing his shit; to Harry Potter, just the spells please; to Claire Dane’s epic cryface.

What would you pick for word of the year?