The theme song to the past year might as well have been "Bird is the Word," and it's not just because Twitter was everywhere, from the Arab Spring protests to Anthony Weiner's underwear. Whitey Bulger's long flight from justice came to an end, and the Republican presidential race was merely flighty. But other words also entered the lexicon in new ways in 2011.
Pippa (n.): Technically, Philippa Charlotte "Pippa" Middleton is just another British party planner and socialite. But ever since she sashayed down the aisle in a clingy white dress as her sister's maid of honor, "Pippa" has come to mean so much more. To pull a Pippa is to upstage a bride on her wedding day, as Pippa did when sister Kate married Prince William in April. To do it the way Pippa did it is to showcase a rear view so exquisite that comments about it almost crashed Twitter. Dubbed "Her Royal Hotness" by the British press, she recently landed a deal for a book on party planning advice. Pippa's brand is so powerful, her exercise instructor just released a workout DVD devoted to developing "The Perfect Pilates Bum." A Kim Kardashian-like future is at Pippa's command, blurring the lines between the useless old royalty of yesteryear and the useless faux-royalty of today.
Not-Mitt (n.): On paper he has it all: brains, family, and wealth; a stellar business career; gubernatorial experience; a history of success. Among the 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls, no one appears to be more of a natural-born executive than the organized, thoughtful, and focused Mitt Romney. And yet Republicans are leaving 2011 the way they entered it: looking for Not-Mitt. Nearly everyone in the field has taken a turn atop the polls, as the GOP has lurched from one candidate not named Romney to the next. It isn't that Republicans are fickle. They avidly seek a standard-bearer who can beat Barack Obama, but they also want a leader who can convey the urgency of the present hour — and why that urgency demands a Republican. Romney is sure he wants to be president, and he certainly fits Central Casting's idea of what a president should be. But his party hungers for more, and the search for Not-Mitt goes on.
job creators (n. pl.): Time was, this term had a straightforward meaning: those who create jobs. Then came the skirmishing over whether to retain the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year. And, after that, a Democratic proposal to add a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million a year. But how to describe those folks? It would be politically awkward to defend tax cuts for "upper earners" or "the well-to-do" or to argue against a surcharge on "millionaires." So conservative lexicologists went to work. Since a small percentage of those reporting business income on their personal tax forms would see their taxes increase if the Bush tax cuts for upper earners expired, this entire group was rebranded. Among conservatives, they are now known as job creators — whether they have created any jobs or not.
tiger mother (n.): Just when the backlash against "helicopter parenting" was taking hold, along came the "tiger mother." Yale Law School professor Amy Chua's memoir about parenting the Chinese way — using browbeating, derision, and forced piano rehearsals — dropped like a bombshell on the parenting world in January, turning Chua into a national enemy. Most of the anger, to be fair, stemmed from a Wall Street Journal excerpt with the headline, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." (The evidence: Chua's kid played Carnegie Hall at age 14, while yours did not.) Chua's actual book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," is horrifying at times, but it's also funny, self-deprecating, and honest about the perils of strictness: Chua's behavior even horrifies her Chinese-immigrant parents. The book also raises a thought-provoking idea: Unlike those coddling helicopter types, tiger mothers assume that their kids are strong, and will it to be so. That's optimistic, but also reminiscent of the decidedly non-Chinese Sigmund Freud: If kids can survive their mothers, they can survive anything.
When a reporter raised the possibility of "gotcha" interviews on foreign affairs, then GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain's response showed a hint of subtle genius. "When they ask me, 'Who is the president of Ubekibeki- beki-beki-stan-stan,'" he said after the Christian Broadcast Network's David Brody asked about Uzbekistan, "I'm going to say, 'You know, I don't know. Do you know?' And then I'm going to say, 'How's that going to create one job?' " The sentiment was misguided, but Cain was thinking big: Nobody should care, he was proudly exclaiming; foreign policy is a distraction in these economic times. In fact, Uzbekistan, whose president is Islam Karimov, is a pivotal nation for military supply routes near Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the US economy — in a wretched state because of our over-investment in two slogging wars — can't be so easily distinguished from foreign policy. Still, Cain's view was a reminder for President Obama that Osama bin Laden's death did not create a single American job. And that's what Cain's party is counting on.
frack (v.): To frack or not to frack — that is the question reverberating in headlines around the world. Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is the recently developed process of drilling deep down into shale, turning the drill horizontally for thousands of feet more and then blasting the rock with water, sand, and chemicals to liberate vast fields of natural gas. The debate has turned into Shakespearean drama, with proponents viewing the practice as noble — a way of weaning the country from oil, while promising jobs and fortune. Environmentalists condemn fracking as a new sea of troubles, with polluted drinking water and a thousand unnatural shocks to the earth. While the Environmental Protection Agency links fracking chemicals to contaminated water in Wyoming, Governor John Kasich of Ohio calls fracking a "godsend" against poverty. This debate should be decided by science and environmental safety — and not by the greed that too often makes cowards of us all.
DERRICK Z. JACKSON
occupy (v.): The gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else has been widening for a generation, but the makeshift encampments this fall drew vastly more attention to the issue. The idea of physically occupying Wall Street echoed other bottom-up movements that inspire the left — not just the pro-democracy protests in the Arab world, but the developing world's "informal settlements" built by poor migrants who've taken over unused land. As tents went up in Dewey Square, the Occupiers' disaffection with the US economy was suddenly tangible. Yet this approach also had a downside; as the weeks wore on, and conditions at the camps got gnarlier, protesters spent lots of energy on holding turf. Now the tents are gone. Can this movement find a way to occupy the political system?
clubhouse (n.): In the Li'l Rascals it was a plywood fort where Spanky ruled and Darla wasn't allowed to play; in 2011, it was no less of a fortress, but the plush, cosseted interiors hid misdeeds great and small. The clubhouse was where Red Sox pitchers retreated to scarf chicken and slurp beer while their teammates tripped up on the field. At Penn State, the secrets were far darker, and the coverup more perplexing. There, in a clubhouse ruled by Joe Paterno, the Old Man in the Mountain of college football, at least one 10-year-old boy was allegedly lured into the shower and molested. When informed of the allegations, Paterno punted. The clubhouse, it seemed, was sacred only to those in the club.
supercommittee (n.) After much fanfare, a budget bust. A committee, yes, but not so super.
Siri (n.) Ask, and you shall be soothed.
Tahrir Square (n.) The world watched with clasped hands as dominoes began to fall.
oops (v.) The sound of a campaign collapsing. Ex: Rick Perry's debate performance.
coyotes (n., pl.) New competition for suburban real estate. Lock up the cats.
Charles Gasko (n.) Is the neighbor just quiet, or is he a ruthless Boston mobster in hiding?
Weinergate (n.) A tweet goes wildly wrong, and — wait — is that what we think it is?!?
City of Champions (n.) Chant until giddy: Super Bowl, NBA title, World Series, Stanley Cup.
Movember (n.) A month of mustache-growing for men's health. Now, shave.