BY JOHN SOLTES
Upon first glance, the phrase “squeezed middle” could refer to The Situation’s world-famous abs on "Jersey Shore."
But, Oxford University Press has a different definition: “the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes and cuts in spending during a time of economic difficulty,” according to an announcement that named the phrase as the word of 2011.
For the first time ever, the lexicographers at Oxford’s United States and United Kingdom branches selected the same word for their annual contest. The phrase “squeezed middle” originated from Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, who used the pairing to describe citizens unevenly burdened by government taxes.
“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,” stated Susie Dent, spokesperson for Oxford Dictionaries, in an official press release.
According to Oxford, the winner is chosen to reflect the ethos of the year and its lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.
Other words that came close in 2011, but ultimately didn’t make the cut: Arab Spring, bunga bunga, clicktivism, crowdfunding, fracking, gamification, Occupy, “the 99 percent,” tiger mother and sifi.
Many of the top phrases are directly tied to large news events, such as "bunga bunga," which refers to alleged sex parties hosted by former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
Clicktivism combines click (as in computer clicks) and activism. Although fracking is well-known to fans of Battlestar Galactica, Oxford highlighted the phrase as “the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure.”
Occupy refers to the popular protests that have disrupted cities across the globe, while “the 99 percent” represents the bottom income earners.
Choosing a two-word phrase for the contest is quite common. In 2010, Oxford’s UK dictionary team chose “big society” as the word of the year.
But don’t expect these top words to appear on the printed page. Winning the contest doesn’t necessarily mean the word will make the next edition of the Oxford dictionary. “We are watching and keeping it under consideration,” the company stated in a press release. “We always wait to see good evidence that the word or expression will stay the course.”