The little street car that could….and did

The modern streetcar in Tucson, Arizona is not like any of the ones you have seen in old Hollywood movies. Remove any image of Marlon Brandon shouting “Stella” from your mind when thinking about this state-of-the-art streetcar.

While Tucson’s streetcar may not look like ones from A Streetcar Named Desire, there were a lot of big desires and hopes riding on it. Primarily the desire that it will help spur economic development and revitalize the city’s downtown.

Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation

Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation

Just a few years ago, Tucson watched Phoenix, it’s big neighbor to the north, successfully build out a new lightrail system. At this time, mass transit in the second largest city in the country’s fastest growing state (according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest estimates) was only a plan on paper, a vision of  the City of Tucson’s Department of Transportation and many residents.

The first real chance for the City of Tucson to install a mass transit system came when the project was added to the $2.1 billion, 20-year Regional Transportation Authority Plan approved by voters in 2006. Inclusion in the plan provided public support and the largest portion of funding, $87.7 million, for a modern streetcar. An additional $63 million in funds came from a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant provided to the City of Tucson by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2010. This helped close the funding gap and increase momentum on the project.

The Cadence, new University of Arizona student housing in downtown Tucson.       (Credit: Ankrom Moisan)

The Cadence, new University of Arizona student housing in downtown Tucson. (Credit: Ankrom Moisan)

Throughout it’s construction phase, Tucson watched as the modern streetcar turned desires of revitalizing the city’s funky and vintage downtown area into a reality. Developers and business owners jumped at the chance to be part of transit-oriented development and set up shop along the route, and they are still jumping. Tucson’s downtown has gained hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private investment thanks to the installation of the streetcar. Bustling, hip new restaurants, bistros, and bars now line the route, and the University of Arizona worked with developers to build new student housing downtown making it easy for students to take the streetcar to and from campus.

This past July, Sun Link – the rebranded Tucson Streetcar,  began operations, an effort 30-years in the making. Today, Sun Link runs seven days a week along the 23-stop, four-mile route that connect’s the University of Arizona, downtown business districts, entertainment venues, and the convention center. Members of the community came out in mass to celebrate the grand opening of Sun Link. The little streetcar that could saw 17,000 riders its first day of operations during a free ride promotion. A little more than two months into its operations and there are murmurs of a new desire to expand the route. Sun Link is on the right track to become an icon in Tucson’s community landscape.

Today, we continue our series on BIG projects hearing from Shellie Ginn, a Transportation Administrator for the City of Tucson’s Department of Transportation and the project manager and champion who worked on the Sun Link for the past decade. We welcome her insights.

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Looking west down Congress Street in  Tucson, AZ in the 1890's. (Credit: Tucson Historical Society)

Looking west down Congress Street in Tucson, AZ in the 1890’s.
(Credit: Tucson Historical Society)

Sun Link is a first-of-its kind transportation option for Tucson. Where did the idea for this modern streetcar originate?
First, let me remind you that we once had historic trollies running through Tucson in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The concept of the modern streetcar was one of several options considered during an Alternatives Analysis started in 2004. The goal was to connect activity centers in the central/downtown Tucson area and provide a vehicle for economic development. Ultimately, the streetcar was selected as the mode of transportation to meet those goals.

Why was a fixed-guided electric rail system chosen over other alternative transportation systems such as a lightrail?
The streetcar was selected due to the greater economic development potential it offered to this area. Other cities such as Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington had seen a revitalization of their downtowns due to this type of transit system. We had similar activity centers and were certain we could see the same results.

The Sun Link route connects the University of Arizona, business districts, and the convention center. What other alternative routes were considered and why was its current route chosen?
The majority of the current route was in all of the alternatives considered. The areas where we had different alignments were around the University of Arizona (around vs. through?) and also how long the system would be. We looked at multiple alignments that included one on 6th Street versus 2nd Street and a longer alignment that traveled up Campbell Avenue to Grant Road. The current route was selected due to its use of roadways that were more pedestrian focused and also directly connected five districts (Mercado District, Downtown, 4th Avenue District, Main Gate District and the University of Arizona). Also, traversing through the University of Arizona campus had the greatest ridership potential.

Sun Link Route Map (Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

Sun Link Route Map
(Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

What type of community involvement was done? What aspects of the project did the community help define?
The community was involved from the beginning of the project. We developed a Citizens Liaison Group (CLG) which was made up of representatives from the neighborhoods along the alignment, business association groups in each of the districts being considered for the alignment and special interest groups such as the Tucson/Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Commission on Disability Issues. Education facilities were represented as well. This group helped review multiple technologies and alignments ultimately selecting the modern streetcar as the preferred technology and the current alignment as the preferred route.

Since Sun Link was new to the community, what type of public education efforts were undertaken?
Public Education and outreach were critical to this project and was included throughout the entire ten years this project has been in development, design, construction, testing and finally, operations. Reaching out to the public and including them in the decision making process led to a transit system that is exceeding its ridership goals and promoting economic development along the entire four-mile line. Our outreach included many presentations to stakeholders along the alignment and throughout the Tucson community, public open houses, and briefings to various leadership in the City, County, State and Federal government. Public outreach and education will be ongoing as a new group of students arrive on the University of Arizona campus each Fall Semester.

Sun Link has been credited with helping to revitalize Tucson’s downtown. How has it done this and what are some of the economic development benefits it has brought to the community?
The Tucson Streetcar has been instrumental in the location of several student housing developments along the four mile line. There are over 3,000 units along the line. There are over 50 new restaurants, bars and cafes that have opened up along the four mile line. Over $800 million of public and private investment has been made with an estimate of over 1,500 long term regional jobs created as a result of the streetcar.

An estimated 3,500 people rode Sun Link on its first paid day of operations. Has this ridership sustained? Who are the main people riding on the weekdays versus weekends?
The average weekday ridership is approximately 5,200 per day and the average weekend ridership is 2,700 (with Saturdays in the 5,000 range). There is a mix of ridership to include students, office workers, people riding in the evenings for dinner and entertainment and neighborhoods taking advantage of the streetcar to ride along the four miles.

"Wandering Stars” by artists Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock at the Granada Ave/Cushing Street stop. (Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

“Wandering Stars” by artists Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock at the Granada Ave/Cushing Street stop.
(Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

One unique aspect of the Sun Link route are the different art pieces incorporated at each of its 23 stops and its Operations and Maintenance facility. How were the artists and their pieces chosen?
The art was selected through the Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC). Eight stops were identified along the alignment (two per mile) and a simple stop concept and the maintenance facility were added as potential art locations as well. TPAC oversaw a public selection process and the artists were selected based on their artistic concepts through a committee.

What are the opportunities to expand the Sun Link route in the future? What would it take to do so?
Potential extensions are identified in the Pima Association of Governments High Capacity Transit Study from 2009. The next step is to start studying the potential routes and determine what funding will be used.

The Sun Link breaking the banner at it's grand opening celebration on July 25, 2014. (Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

The Sun Link breaking the banner at it’s grand opening celebration on July 25, 2014.
(Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

You served as the City of Tucson’s Project Manager for Sun Link for 10 years and guided it from conception to implementation. What was your favorite part of this project?
Over the last ten years, I was able to watch a concept become a reality and see the direct benefits of this type of system in the five districts along the streetcar alignment. My favorite part was the Grand Opening and seeing all of these people wait in long lines with smiles on their faces. It has been such a pleasure to work on a project of this stature.

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For more information on Sun Link visit www.sunlinkstreetcar.com, like it on Facebook, or follow it on Twitter.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.
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Harnessing the power of the sun

When you think of the Mojave Desert, two words likely come to mind – dry and hot as well as images of Joshua trees, sand dunes, and the barren aptly named Death Valley. As of last year, you can now add a sea of glimmering solar mirrors to that list. Make that a sea of more than 300,000 glimmering solar mirrors that make up the world’s largest solar thermal plant.  The Mojave Desert is now home to the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System which began commercial operation in 2013 and has been harnessing the energy of the desert sun to power homes in Southern California and reduce the state’s carbon footprint.  The clean electricity produced by the 392 megawatt solar thermal power project is also helping the state known for it’s highways and traffic congestion avoid millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other air pollutants, an equivalent to taking  more than 70,000 cars of the road annually.

The three units of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. (Credit BrightSource Energy)

The three units of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.
(Credit BrightSource Energy)

In addition to being the largest solar thermal plant in the world, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System has also achieved another first. It received the 2014 Power Magazine’s Plant of the Year award, making it the first renewable energy plant to receive the honor.

The world’s largest solar thermal plant became a reality thanks to a collaborative public/private partnership between the United States Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, NRG, BrightSource Energy, Bechtel, and Google. A true testament to how these two sectors can come together on common ground to support the greater good of advancing renewable energy in our country.

Today, we kick off our annual series on BIG projects hearing from Jeff Holland, Director of Communications for NRG, the project’s owner. He fills us in on the vision and goal for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, how stakeholders and the world were kept informed of the project’s progress and the plant’s operations and economic benefit. We welcome his insights.

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The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System came to fruition through a collaboration of multiple corporate partners. Who were these players and what did they each bring to the table?
With NRG Energy’s leadership as the project owner, equity partners Google and BrightSource Energy and Bechtel’s engineering and construction expertise, the team set a new standard for solar thermal power. At the same time, we’re strengthening the nation’s economy and solar supply chain, as well as helping to shift our country closer to energy independence.

What was the overall vision and goal of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System?
The goal was for Ivanpah to become the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) facility, an engineering marvel that increases America’s supply of renewable energy and one that produces clean, reliable solar electricity that will power more than 140,000 homes through California’s two largest utilities—Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE). Ivanpah is a magnificent example of a public/private partnership to bring more renewable energy to our country.

Credit: A Google Earth image of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System adjacent to the Ivanpah dry lake bed. (Credit: Mojave Desert Blog)

Credit: A Google Earth image of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System adjacent to the Ivanpah dry lake bed.
(Credit: Mojave Desert Blog)

What was the rationale behind locating the solar electric plant on the Ivanpah dry lakebed? Can you describe the environmental considerations behind this choice?
This is land leased to us by the Bureau of Land Management and the lease agreement dictates that we return the land to its previously undisturbed state once the power purchase agreements expire.

As part of our ongoing environmental mitigation efforts, we are working with the appropriate state, federal and local agencies to apply science in our mitigation efforts on a wide range of carefully constructed wildlife and biological protection plans.

While we take the work we are doing very seriously and are putting the measures in place and spending the money on monitoring efforts, it is important to note that, climate change is by far the largest threat to life on earth and we have spent billions of dollars on projects like Ivanpah in our quest to find ways to provide clean, sustainable and renewable energy.

Please describe the general design of the plant and how these design standards contributed to a more sustainable project?
Ivanpah uses software to control hundreds of thousands of tracking mirrors, known as heliostats, to directly concentrate sunlight onto a boiler filled with water that sits atop a tower. When the sunlight hits the boiler, the water inside is heated and creates high temperature steam. Once produced, the steam is used in a conventional turbine to produce electricity. Using this concentrated solar thermal technology.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System begins operation. (Credit: BrightSource Energy)

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System begins operation.
(Credit: BrightSource Energy)

Was any outreach conducted to engage stakeholders in the Mojave Desert area?
Of course. NRG is 100% committed to working with the communities in which we operate, and to protecting the health and safety of people, wildlife, plant life, and ecosystems in the areas in which we work.

How did you communicate the project’s progress to the rest of the world. Which communication tools did you find most effective?
We conducted community outreach by attending and speaking at various community-focused events and public hearings as well as direct mail campaigns and developing a project website where people could learn about the progress and gather information on the project’s milestones and accomplishments. We worked with the state and federal groups in developing and reporting all plans to the California Energy Commission who also continue to publish all of our information onto their own website where people can opt-in for updates as well.

Were there any challenges or barriers to receiving public support for the project? If so, how did you overcome these challenges or barriers?
We have worked closely with state and federal agencies and all relevant stakeholders from the moment we began our development of Ivanpah to responsibly address the challenges unique to Ivanpah’s size, location and technology.

As part of our ongoing environmental mitigation efforts, we are working with the appropriate state, federal and local agencies to apply science in our mitigation efforts on a wide range of carefully constructed wildlife and biological protection plans.

I think the public overwhelmingly supports clean energy projects such as Ivanpah when you factor in that it prevents the emission of 400,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere – tantamount to removing 72,000 cars from California’s roads annually.

Construction workers secure a heliostat onto a pylon. (Credit: BrightSource Energy)

Construction workers secure a heliostat onto a pylon.
(Credit: BrightSource Energy)

Construction of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System required thousands of workers. How many people are currently employed by the plant?
At peak construction we employed more than 2,600 people on-site. The project now has 65 employees responsible for the day-to-day operations of the facility. The project also employs 25 biologists for protection and support of wildlife in addition to performing other biological work for the project. At the height of our work, we employed as many as 160 biologists on-site for our Head Start program for desert tortoises. The project provided a local infusion of $300 million in state and local tax benefits at a time when the US economy was going through the “Great Recession” and was in much need of good paying jobs. Total construction wages paid eclipsed $250 million and total employee earnings over the course of the project are expected to be more than $650 million.

How does the plant’s energy production measure up against other similar solar projects?

Ivanpah is the world’s largest solar thermal plant and approximately 100 MWs more than our Agua Caliente photovoltaic (PV) solar plant which produces 290 MWs, which is currently the nation’s largest fully-operational PV plant.

Are there any lessons learned from this project?
As with any large infrastructure improvement project there will be lessons learned. With Ivanpah, we attempted something that had never been done on this scale – and with a brand new technology. We are constantly improving our processes and efficiencies on site and learning about ways we can optimize the levels of power we are producing. We are generating massive amounts of data that will help with future projects going forward and our environmental research work has been ground-breaking for the science community.

Credit: Hotelzon

Credit: Hotelzon

This project is a great example of how corporate partners are coming together to help California to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal. What are some best practices people can do in their own homes or at work that can help contribute to meeting our state’s goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020?
Ivanpah is a magnificent example of a public/private partnership to bring more renewable energy to our country. Ivanpah has drawn support from the Department of Energy (DOE) and NRG due to their tremendous benefits and the hard work of the original project developers. The DOE chose to award loan guarantees to these projects to provide debt support to the original project developers based on the economic, environmental and energy security benefits those projects will bring to Americans. Because projects like this are so important, NRG invested more than a billion of its own capital to provide equity support to the projects because they offer the potential for quality returns and the ability to move clean energy forward in a meaningful way.

We are doing our part, but there are things individual consumers can do to reduce their carbon footprint in their homes. Things like installing solar rooftop systems, purchasing a programmable thermostat like Nest, changing their lighting to compact fluorescence (CFLs), weather-stripping and insulation, turning off electronics and your cable modem when not in use and buying Energy-Star-rated appliances.

Fed Ex Field in Washington D.C. (Credit NRG Energy)

Fed Ex Field in Washington D.C. has an NRG solar installation that can produce up to 2 megawatts of power. Enough power to meet 20% of the stadium’s power needs on game days and all of its power needs on non-game days.
(Credit NRG Energy)

What’s next for NRG? What projects should we be looking forward to?
The energy industry is on the cusp of a revolution and NRG is driving toward a consumer-focused future. Through innovation, the freedom of choice and the self-empowerment, the consumer will realize the enormous benefit of something our generation never experienced – energy self-determination.

NRG is bullish on renewable energy, based on ongoing improvements in the technologies and the effective commercialization of new technologies (evidenced by projects like Ivanpah) that we see continuing over the next five years.

We think solar and wind will become the clear competitive alternatives to fossil generation in the foreseeable future. Photovoltaic solar costs continue to go down, driven by a decrease in panel prices and companies like NRG working to bring down the overall balance of system cost.

In addition to our large-scale wind and solar utility projects, NRG owns high-profile distributed solar installations at several NFL stadiums, including FedEx Field in Washington, DC; MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ; Patriot Place in Boston; Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; and the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., which is LEEDs certified and will be the first U.S. professional sports venue to achieve net zero energy performance.

Lastly, NRG owns 40 MW of combined distributed solar at various commercial locations in several states, including municipal buildings, hospitals, industrial buildings, schools, universities and retail chains and also partners with notable organizations, such as MGM (Mandalay Bay) and Starwood Resorts to offer solar energy solutions to private industry.

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Solar power is all around us. Whether you live in one of the homes receiving electricity produced by the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a student at a University, a fan cheering on your favorite NFL team in their home stadium, or a guest staying and playing at a Las Vegas resort, the power of the sun may just be helping to power these aspects of your life.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.
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Report Cards Aren’t Just for Schools

Earlier this week, we celebrated Labor Day. That means many schools across the country started session, and with school comes report cards. Report cards identify where students excel or need to improve. But student’s aren’t the only ones that receive report cards. Every four years our country receives a report card on its infrastructure systems from the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Like the alphabet is to words, infrastructure is to the systems that create water, energy, and roadways. Infrastructure is the building block of everything. It is our roads and bridges. It delivers water and electricity to our homes. It’s what keeps commerce coming through our ports. And it is the schools where our future leaders are taking their own educational journeys.

Credit: Streetsblog USA

Credit: Streetsblog USA

The report card for America’s Infrastructure is significant because just like with students in school it shows our country where it needs to improve and offers key solutions for how to do so. An advisory council of ASCE members assigns grades using the following criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation.

In 2013 America’s infrastructure systems scored the following:

  • Dams – D
  • Drinking  Water – D
  • Hazardous Waste – D
  • Levees – D-
  • Solid Waste – B -
  • Wastewater – D
  • Aviation – D
  • Bridges – C+
  • Inland Waterways  – D-
  • Ports – C
  • Rail – C+
  • Roads – D
  • Transit – D
  • Public Parks and Recreation – C-
  • Schools – D
  • Energy – D+

This past year America’s infrastructure GPA was a D+, somewhat of an improvement from the country’s typical D average. The other promising aspect of the 2013 report card is that no categories declined.

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Credit: Hearst Communications, Inc.

So how does America improve it’s infrastructure GPA? In many ways it’s similar to how students improve their GPA. Investing in the future through studying and dedication brings grades up. Investing in the country’s future through funding, policy, and public support helps projects move forward improving their grades with the ASCE. This was true with rail category in 2013. The country’s rail system gained more private investment for efficiency and connectivity and saw increased ridership (Amtrak reported it’s highest ridership of 31.2 million passengers in 2012). As a result, this category achieved the highest improved grade moving from a C- four years ago to a C+. While this change doesn’t seem like a lot, the improvement is significant and promising.

Credit: BrightSource Energy

Credit: BrightSource Energy

This month as we kick off our annual series on BIG projects, we will take a look at some of the projects helping to improve America’s infrastructure report card. We will learn about advancements in renewable energy, land use, transportation, and more. Some of these projects are the valedictorians of their fields and others are still improving with lots of potential for the future. Big or small there is no doubt these projects have made a BIG impact on improving the BIG systems that connect us and keep us moving.

We hope you’ll stay with us and share your BIG ideas along the way.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

Flounders, and gangplanks, and smokestacks! Oh my!

In June and July, we showed our readers banished words, slang words, words of the year, and words that create sayings backed with extra meaning. We looked at commonly misused phrases and the history of even more common idioms. Looking back, we have filled our blog with a colorful cornucopia of word choices. We hope you have enjoyed this word-filled journey as much as we have enjoyed being your vocabulary tour guide.

Credit: edudemic.com

Credit: edudemic.com

And now, without further ado, we would like to extend a sincere thank you to the word aficionados who contributed over the past two months:

In August our blog will take a summer break, but first we are closing our series on words and word choice with a nod to beach lingo from the roaring 1920’s.

Credit: NYTimes.com

Credit: NYTimes.com

“To avoid being bellbuoys and water-lilies, we’re donning our films to join the beach combers and weak fish on the shore during the month of August.”

For a full translation, visit the ‘20s Beach Vernacular inventory by Ben Schott from the New York Times.

We look forward to bringing you new insights this fall, starting with our annual series on BIG projects in September!

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The Collaborative Services Blog Team

“I do not think it means what you think it means”

This week we bring you the second part of our look at the origins and meanings of popular sayings. As we continue our series on Words and Word Choice, we are focusing on this important information to help you communicate effectively. While sayings and idioms are fun ways to express yourself, they only work if you understand their meaning, and if the person you are using them with also understands it. For example, if you have ever seen the classic 1987 movie The Princess Bride you will likely remember that Wallace Shawn’s character, Vizzini, keeps using the word “inconceivable,” but it doesn’t seem like quite the right way to describe the unfolding events. Mandy Patinkin’s character, Inigo Montoya, says to Vizzini “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” We don’t want you to be Vizzini when it comes communicating.

To help you avoid “beating around the bush” when communicating with others, today we continue to share the theories behind the origins and meanings of sayings you have likely said or heard yourself. We used the Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Oxford Idioms Dictionary for English Learners, and NTC’s Dictionary of Words and Phases as our sources for the meanings and origins of the sayings in this blog post.

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Credit: Northern Sun

Credit: Northern Sun

Killed with Kindness

If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Instead, try killing the person or thing irritating you with kindness. Not literally, but in a way that makes you look good while also achieving a good outcome. The first recorded use of this expression comes from William Shakespeare who used it in 1596 in The Taming of the ShrewHowever, the words and action of harming someone with excessive kindness may actually date back further to ancient Greece. The Athenian lawmaker and first legislator of Athens, Draco created the first constitution of Athens, a set of strict laws with harsh punishments enforced only by a court (one could receive the death penalty for stealing cabbage). Despite the harshness of the Draconian laws, Draco was popular among the people. Around 590 B.C. he was sitting in a theater at Aegina when he was literally killed by kindness. So many of the attending audience members hailed Draco, paying tribute by throwing articles of their clothing on him that he was actually smothered to death. We’re left wondering what the draconian punishment may have been for this act?

Credit: Design Your Trust user Raid 71

Credit: Design Your Trust user Raid 71

Paint the Town Red

There is more then one way to say tonight you are going out to have a great time. Probably the most colorful expression to use is saying you are going to “paint the town red.” Today, the best understood meaning of this saying is having fun visiting several bars and clubs in one night. But, this particular saying has many other theoretical origins from the hard partying ways of cowboys in the 1880’s American West to the flushing of drunk faces. The latter suggests a connection to the older expression “to paint” which meant “to drink.” Pair this expression with the way an inebriated person’s face turns red when they have had a few too many and you have another possible origin of this saying. Another possibility is that red is in reference to violence, and those who “painted” often did harm to themselves or others in their drunken stupor.

Credit: Halcyon Solutions Inc.

Credit: Halcyon Solutions Inc.

Get One’s Goat

You’ve probably had to deal with an annoying individual once if not several times in your life. Someone who drives you into a tizzy. This feeling isn’t common to just humans, its also felt by our equestrian friends. The saying “to get ones goat” is often believed to have to do with high-strung race horses. Goats were put in their stables to calm them, but the horses would become attached to their new roommate and grow upset if the goat was removed. The theory is that during horse races in the 19th century gamblers would use this practice to their advantage and steal the goat from the stable of the horse they wanted to lose so they could reap the profits of a win. Hence they would “get ones goat” to gain an advantage in the race. While gamblers may have been practicing “getting one’s goat” in the 19th century the phrase was first recorded by Jack London in his 1912 novel, Smoke Bellew, but it’s reference had nothing to do with racing. Other theories suggest that the phrase is linked to “scapegoat” of ancient Hebrew tradition; the word “goad” meaning to anger or irritate; or the 16th century French phrase “prendre la chèvre” which means “to take the goat.”

Credit: deviantart user tdj1337

Credit: deviantart user tdj1337

Steal My Thunder

Don’t you hate it when you come up with a brilliant idea only to have someone suggest it before you, and receive all the credit for it? You’ve probably uttered the words “they stole my thunder” under your breath when this happens. Don’t feel too bad, the same thing happened to playwright John Dennis. Dennis discovered a new way to simulate thunder on the stage by shaking a sheet of tin. He used this method during his 1709 play Appius and Virginia which only ran for a short time. After his play had closed, Dennis was sitting in the pit at a rival theater during their production of Macbeth when he heard his thunder being simulated. This caused Dennis to exclaim “See how the rascals use me! They will not let my play run, and yet they steal my thunder.” So remember poor John Dennis next time someone steals your good idea and gets the credit for it. At least you weren’t the person who literally had their thunder stolen.

We hope you enjoyed the origins and meanings of these sayings and that they help make communicating “a piece of cake” for you in the future. What are some common sayings that you have always wondered about the origins of?

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Is That What You Meant?

You do it. We do it. We all do it. What do we do? We use old sayings when we talk about new situations. Why do we do it is another question.

Maybe, we think we’ll be understood because we are using a saying that we think everyone knows. Maybe we believe the saying captures everything we need to express. Maybe an idiom adds color to what we are saying. Then again, maybe not everyone knows the saying or they have a different idea about what it means. Maybe that saying carries additional meaning that we didn’t intend. So as we continue our series on Words and Word Choice we are focusing on – sayings, phrases, and idioms – because we use them and the meanings they communicate are crucial to dialogue – public ones like our firm is professionally involved with – and personal ones that each of us has every day with our family, friends, and colleagues. We’ll check out what these sayings communicate not just with their words, but their extra meaning via their history and past interpretation that they carry with them. As you never know what your audience associates with these sayings, you may want to reconsider putting the situation into your own words.

In our quest to discover the history of these sayings, we headed offline to the library. We used The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Oxford Idioms Dictionary for English Learners, and NTC’s Dictionary of Words and Phases as our sources for the meanings and origins of the sayings in this blog post.

We want to make sure you aren’t “barking up the wrong tree” when you communicate, so read on for our first set of sayings and their origins and meanings.

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Credit: decentreenglish.com

Credit: decentreenglish.com

Bite the Bullet
Have you ever been in a tough situation and someone told you to just “bite the bullet?” Doesn’t sound very appetizing, and what does biting a bullet have to do with hunkering down and accepting a difficult task? There are two possible origins for this phrase and both were formed on the battlefield. The first possible origin dates back to the 1850’s and the cartridge used in a British Enfield Rifle. This cartridge had a paper tube that the riflemen had to bite off in order to expose and spark the gun powder. The rifleman had to remain clam while performing this task in the middle of a battlefield hence the expression to “bite the bullet.”

The second possible origin is in reference to surgeons operating prior to the use of anesthesia. They would ask their patients to bite a bullet in an attempt to alleviate their pain.

Credit: Brillo 2010

Credit: Brillo 2010

Raining Cats and Dogs
Our state and many others are currently in a terrible drought, so we certainly wouldn’t mind if it started raining, but perhaps not “cats and dogs.” This rain reference comes from 17th century England when apparently garbage and the carcass’ of cats and dogs were washed through city streets that during heavy downpours sadly became rivers of liter and our lost furry friends. The first printed use of the phrase is also from the 17th century. Playwright Richard Brome wrote in his play The City Witt (1652): “It shall rain dogs and polecats.” Another more mythical theory suggests that the saying was inspired by the fact that cats and dogs were associated with rain and wind in Northern mythology. Dogs were pictured as the attendants of the storm god Odin, and cats were believed to cause storms. Lastly, this saying could have also originated from mis-pronunciation. It’s been suggested that this phrase comes from a Greek expression that sounds similar and means “an unlikely occurrence.” Another theory suggests it comes from a mispronunciation the rare French word for waterfall, “catadoupe.”

Credit: FinanceTwitter

Credit: FinanceTwitter

Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They’re Hatched
Have you ever gotten your hopes up too soon? Maybe growing up, your parents told you “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” because they didn’t want your excitement to end in disappointment. This phrase originated in an Aesop fable about a woman entrepreneur who arrives at a market with eggs to sell. She announces that she will buy a goose with the profits she gets from the eggs, then to sell the goose and use the profits from that sale to purchase a horse, and so on. It sounds like a good logical plan until she accidentally kicks over her basket of eggs, breaking them in her excitement. No eggs, no goose, no horse, no good. Aesop used this expression again as the moral of  his story “The Milkmaid and her Pail.” It has a similar outcome to the story of the woman and her eggs. Just replace eggs with milk, you get the idea.

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Do you use any of these sayings? Are you surprised by any of their origins?

Stay tuned as we keep you on the “straight and narrow” when is comes to communicating, as we continue to share the interesting, twisted, and funny origins behind popular sayings. And, please share with us your favorite sayings and their origins.

The Collaborative Services Blog Team
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“Everyone wants to write a novel, but very few people want to write the next sentence.”

Time Magazine names its “Person of the Year,” but did you know if also names its best bloggers of the year? Today, we are pleased to introduce one of the bloggers that made their 2013 list. Acclaimed author and all around lover of language Mark Forsyth is also the man behind the blog The Inky Fool.

From exploring the origins of words and phrases to guiding good grammar to the basics of correctly constructing a sentence, The Inky Fool is an enjoyable online resource for anyone interested in the English language. Forsyth uses concise and witty posts to explore everything you’ve ever wondered about the written and spoken word because he is curious about it too. Time sited his post on the hidden meanings behind the Christmas carol “Twelve Days of Christmas,” as both “shocking and shockingly obvious.” And his article  for The Telegraph on the use of the word “so” (also posted on his blog) will leave you internally debating whether the conjunction really is useless afterall.

Credit: Mark Forsyth, The Inky Fool

Credit: Mark Forsyth, The Inky Fool

Additionally, Forsyth shares his knowledge and love of etymology with readers offline in his books and other publications including: “The Etymologicon,” “The Horologicon,” “The Elements of Eloquence,” and “The Unknown Unknown.”

Today, we hear from Forsyth on how the Inky Fool got its start. He’ll share his favorite memorable phrases and why bookstores are still important in the digital age. And he’ll give advice for aspiring writers. We welcome his insights.

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Credit: rgbstock

Credit: rgbstock

How did your blog The Inky Fool start? What caused you to have the idea to launch it?
It actually wasn’t my idea – an old friend of mine suggested starting a blog on language; and for the first few months we did it together. I simply found that I enjoyed it more, and had more time to spare. She left, but it’s still named after her. You see, she can’t go within 100 yards of a fountain pen without ending up covered in ink for some reason. So I used to call her the Inky Fool. The blog is still named after her, even though everyone thinks it’s me.

The Inky Fool is dedicated to Words, Phrases, Grammar, Rhetoric and Prose. Why this focus?
It’s all about how to construct a single sentence. The important thing about the blog is that it’s never about what is said, only about how it’s being said: the beautiful words that can be used, the strange ways of phrasing things, the comical origins of the words. The important thing, is that when, for example, I’m talking about a political slogan, I never ever say whether or not I agree with it. So many people who write about language feel that that gives them the right to opine about the world, which is terribly tedious.

Credit: Blogger

Credit: Blogger

We notice that “words” are combined with phrases, grammar, rhetoric and prose. We’re focusing on words in June and July. Would you like to write a few words about words, why they are first on your list, why they matter and what’s so interesting about them from your point of view?
My favourite thing about words is the strange and funny origins, the stories behind them and the connections between them. I love the fact that ‘testament’ is related to ‘testicle,’ or that California is named after the Caliphate, or that ‘brackets’ comes from the Old French for ‘codpiece.’

What do like most about blogging?
The ability to write exactly how you want to. Most forms of writing, whether it’s newspapers, novels, or poetry, have a set style, a way of writing that’s expected of you. Blogging is young enough that these conventions haven’t had time to form. It’s perfect artistic freedom, not because you’re breaking the rules, but because there aren’t any rules there at all. It’s the new frontier.

Credit: Screen Rant, LLC

Credit: Screen Rant, LLC

Your book the Elements of Eloquence goes beyond a love for words, it discusses what makes a phrases memorable. What are some of your favorite phrases and why do think they have stood the test of time?
My favourite figure of rhetoric is diacope. Bond, James Bond. Run, Forest, run. Fly, my pretties, fly. Captain, my captain. To be, or not to be. Game over, man, game over. It’s so simple and elegant, and pretty much guarantees you a memorable line. It’s not the phrase I love so much as the formula behind it (although I do of course love the phrases). It’s great to put together great lines from across history – demonstrating how the Bible, Dickens, Gershwin and Katy Perry are all using the same trick of progressio. Putting Paul McCartney next to St Paul and saying “Look, it’s the same thing.”

Your latest publication The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted written for Independent Booksellers Week is in some ways is an ode to a place many believe is on its way out – the bookshop. You believe bookshops are alive and well. In the age of tablets and e-books, what are some of the ways that bookstores are surviving? What does “the bookshop” represent and what’s your best case scenario for them to succeed in an increasingly online world?
The important thing about a bookshop is that you can, by chance, come across a book that you never knew existed, on a subject you had never even thought of. You can’t get that on the internet, because on the internet you need to enter your search terms. A good bookshop can expand your mind. The dangerous thing about the internet is that it can fulfil all the desires that you already have, but it can’t give you new ones. If you were always able to get food just like Mama used to make it, you’d end up eating that rubbish for the rest of your life.

What book(s) have influenced you the most as a writer?
Three Men in a Boat.

You are active on social media, which often limits our words to 140 characters or less. How do you handle this challenge?
I rather like the challenge of expressing yourself as briefly as possib

What’s ahead for you and The Inky Fool this year? What should readers look forward to?
Right at the moment, nothing. I’ve just finished the publicity tour for “The Unknown Unknown,” and I’m going to take a break. In a few days time, I’m sure I’ll get bored and start something new. But for the moment, I’ve no idea what it will be.

What advice or resources do you have for aspiring writers and word lovers?
Make sure that you love language and love writing. Everybody wants to write a novel, but very few people want to write the next sentence. Life is all about process. Everyone would like to be Wimbledon Champion (or whatever), but almost all of us would die of boredom if we were asked to play tennis eight hours a day, seven days a week. If commas aren’t your idea of fun, you’re in trouble.

Credit: Candilynn Fite

Credit: Candilynn Fite

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To fall even more in love with language visit The Inky Fool and pick up a copy of one of Forsyth’s books here. Or, take a stroll through the aisles of your local bookstore.

As the Inky Fool has showed us words and phrases have many different origins and meanings. The words you use may mean more than you know. Next up we’ll explore the origins and meanings behind some of our favorite phrases and sayings. Stay tuned to make sure you are saying what you think you are saying.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Much ado about “more than”

Every profession has its tool of the trade. Carpenters are equipped with a hammer and nails. Teachers use a chalk board or smart board when they work with their students. Journalists rely on the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. A copy of the AP Stylebook aka the “journalist’s bible” has been at every journalist’s desk since the 1950s. Today, editions are also available online and as an app on your smartphone, making it a tool just as essential to reporting the news as a pen, notebook, computer, digital recorder, or camera. So when an update or exception is made to the AP Stylebook, it becomes breaking news itself.

Earlier this year a few words caused a big uproar in the world of journalists and professional writers everywhere. The AP Stylebook changed its stance on the long debated writer’s rule of when to use “more than” and when to use “over.” The AP now says that it is okay to use “over,” as well as “more than” when referring to quantity. The twittersphere exploded over this exception both in favor and against.

 

Credit: AP Stylebook

Credit: AP Stylebook

Credit: Twitter user @MikeShor

Credit: Twitter user @MikeShor

Credit: Twitter user @nickjungman

Credit: Twitter user @nickjungman

The type of reaction received after making “over” and “more than” interchangeable is nothing new to the AP Stylebook co-editors. They receive countless requests for updates and exceptions to be made each year. They spend significant time and careful consideration on every update and exception that is made to the AP Stylebook, but know they can’t please everyone. As our language evolves, the writing resources we use must evolve with it. While these updates and exceptions may not always be welcome news they help all of us accurately communicate and report the news in a culture that is continually changing.

So, how are these updates and exceptions determined? Who is tasked with making such influential decisions? This is the job of our interviewee – co-editor of the AP Stylebook David Minthorn and his fellow co-editors Sally Jacobsen and Paula Froke. This week as we continue our series on Words and Words Choice, David shares with us why it is important for the AP Stylebook to evaluate and update its guidelines, typical requests for updates and exceptions that he receives, and he’ll get to the bottom of the AP’s controversial ruling mentioned above on using “over” and “more than” when referring to a quantity. We welcome his insights.

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Credit: AP Stylebook

Credit: AP Stylebook

The AP Stylebook has come to be known as the “journalist’s bible.” What was the original purpose of the AP Stylebook?
The preface for the 1953 edition states that the book “is for the guidance and benefit of those engaged in preparing the AP report.”

   The explanation that follows remains relevant today.

   “Presentation of the printed word should be accurate, consistent, pleasing to the eye and should conform to grammatical rules.

   “The English language is fluid and changes incessantly. What last year may have been very formal, next year may be loosely informal. Word combinations, slogans and phrases are being added to and becoming part of the language. Alphabetical identifications are widely accepted.

   “Because of constantly changing usage, no compilation can be called permanent. Nor can any one volume be infallible and contain all the wisdom and information of the ages. When there is doubt, consult an authoritative source and stay with it. The effort in this book has been to provide applicable examples to as many problems as space permits.”

What do you think its biggest contribution has been?
The Stylebook has evolved from that compact first edition of 60 pages primarily for newspapers to the current handbook of 500 pages covering essential writing and editing guidance and news values for all platforms of news presentation. Over the years, the AP Stylebook’s annual editions have benefited greatly from suggestions by a wide range of readers and users. In updating the Stylebook, the editors keep in mind the overriding goals of AP reporting: to be accurate, balanced, prompt, clear and concise, no matter what the news or where it happens.

How often does the AP Stylebook get updated?
AP Stylebook Online, available by annual subscription, is updated throughout the year with new terms and revisions, including amended definitions as needed. These updates are incorporated into the printed edition published each year in late May or early June.

When the AP Stylebook makes an update or exception it is breaking news. Generally, what factors are considered in determining what to update?
The overriding factors are relevance to the news and ensuring accuracy and clarity in AP news reports. Updates generally fall into three categories: New terms added  for coverage of breaking news or major issues; revised entries or guidelines to update existing terminology; and new topical sections bringing together various entries previously listed individually in the A to Z alphabetical section. Religion Guidelines added this year includes about a dozen new terms, for a total of more than 200 entries in the section.

Revised entries often generate high interest. An example this year was AP Stylebook team’s ruling that over may be used in numerical references along with more than. Previously, over was limited to spatial relationships, as in “the plane flew over the city.”  For expressing greater numerical values, more than was the approved term: e.g., Salaries went up more than $20 a week. The change permits over in such contexts: Salaries went up over $20 a week.

So over did not replace more than in referring to greater numerical value in AP Style. Rather, the terms are given equal footing in numerical references. We’re simply following dictionary definitions of the words, dropping a grammatically baseless prohibition that entered the U.S. journalistic canon in the 19th century.

Credit: New Jersey On-Line LLC

Credit: New Jersey On-Line LLC

What type of reaction does the AP Stylebook receive from journalists and other professional writers when it makes an update?
Generally two or three updates of the dozens made each year garner a lot of comment — praise and criticism. A few examples. In the 2010 Stylebook, website became one word, lowercase, reflecting popular usage. However, other terms using Web, shorthand for World Wide Web, remain unchanged with two words: e.g., Web page, Web feed. In 2011, email became one word for simplicity, an exception to other electronic terms spelled with hyphens: e-book and e-commerce. In 2012, the Stylebook amended a longtime entry to accept hopefully as a sentence adverb in line with dictionaries: Hopefully, we’ll be home before dark. In 2013, the Stylebook entry on illegal immigrant was replaced by illegal immigration: illegal refers only to an action, not a person. Also, the 2013 entry on mental illness, with guidelines on usage in stories on violent crime, was another significant update.

Two changes this year got a lot of attention. I’ve mentioned over and more than. A second change generating a lot of attention was the decision to spell out state names with cities within news stories, rather than abbreviating the state. For example, we’ll now write Madison, Wisconsin, instead of Madison, Wis. This change will ensure that location spellings conform to a common standard. Many AP stories are transmitted overseas, where U.S. state abbreviations aren’t well-known. Spelling the states clarifies these names. AP stories written overseas and sent simultaneously to U.S. domestic services  have been spelling out state names for some time.

Why is it important that the AP Stylebook evaluate and update its guidelines on a regular basis?
With the flow of daily news, new coinages, expressions and spellings involving newsmakers come into play virtually every week and sometimes more often. Some new terms have a short life and lose relevance rather quickly; others have staying power and retain lasting significance. AP Stylebook’s editors work year-round to stay abreast of evolving language and usage. Our task is to decide which terms with definitions merit inclusion in the Stylebook to help AP report the news with accuracy, speed, credibility and readability.

Credit: Oxford Dictionaries

Credit: Oxford Dictionaries

Other publications dedicated to words also make annual updates such as Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries with their “word of the year.” Does the AP Stylebook pay attention to the updates made by other publications? How much do the “words of the year” and additions in other publications influence the AP Stylebook’s updates?
The AP Stylebook’s primary reference is Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition The publishers are planning a Fifth Edition later this year. We’ll pay very close attention to updates in that dictionary. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is our backup dictionary, along with Concise Oxford English Dictionary. We did note that “selfie” was prominently featured in the Oxford dictionary group’s 2013 words of the year. Coincidentally, the term for a self-portrait taken by a smartphone and posted on the Web was added to the online AP Stylebook and will appear in the 2014 printed edition not enclosed in quotes. While the term has been around in social media since 2004, selfie became very prominent in the news over the last 12 months as famous personalities got involved.

What are some of the more popular requests for updates and exceptions that the AP Stylebook receives?
The spelling changes to website — one word– and email — no hyphen — were a reflection of popular sentiment and common usage. Over several years, we received many requests from the public and from within the AP staff to amend those spellings. Finally the time was right, so we changed the Stylebook’s spellings to reflect reality. Those who objected probably stuck with the old spelling. It’s their right. AP Style isn’t imposed on anyone outside the AP.

As the 4th Estate moves more to online and digital mediums, are you seeing this shift reflected in the updates the AP Stylebook makes?
I mentioned the prompt updates of the AP Stylebook Online once the editors agree on a change that affects  AP’s coverage of breaking news and major issues. We encourage our staff to consult the online book, which is the most up-to-date version at any time. The printed book is a compendium of all the updates in the previous 12 months, so it’s highly useful in its own right and highly portable. Also, Stylebook Mobile is a universal iOS app for iPhones and iPads. The need for these electronic editions grows with our increasingly digitalized communications. The content of the Stylebook reflects online and digital mediums, from the expanded guidance of the social media chapter to the call each year for suggestions via apstylebook.com.

Credit: GIGAOM

Credit: GIGAOM

With the rise of online journalism and citizen reporters, do you see the AP Stylebook guidelines being lost with these non-traditional outlets?
Not at all. The Stylebook editors tweet and post daily AP Style tips. We hold monthly AP Style chats on Twitter featuring AP specialist reporters — politics, science, sports, book publishing, fashion, food, etc. All these topics have specialized vocabularies for reporters and editors in all platforms, including online and citizen reporters. Also, there’s Ask the Editor, the online Stylebook’s help site. I answer some 3,000 queries a year from Stylebook users seeking advice on writing and editing that often goes beyond specific Stylebook entries. If anything, the interest in AP Style is expanding every year.

Last year was the AP Stylebook’s 60th anniversary. This major milestone was celebrated with a print edition, which includes more than 90 new or updated entries and broadens the guidelines on social media. Where do you see the AP Stylebook headed in the next 60 years?
We’ll take it one year at a time. The public’s need for breaking news, in-depth reporting and nonpartisan analysis has never been greater. The AP Stylebook’s lexicon of terminology provides a framework for reporting the news accurately, consistently and objectively. Usage constantly evolves, new words come into the language. Language rulings from a credible and authoritative source will always be needed. The methods and devices used to convey AP Stylebook updates are certain to evolve in ways we can’t yet envision. But the basic mission outlined in 1953 remains unchanged.

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We use our copy of the AP Stylebook religiously and encourage new writers to do the same. Pick up a copy of the latest edition in print, online, or on your phone and see where it can take your writing. Or, share with us some other must have writing resources that you can’t do without.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Capturing a year in a word

Think back on the past year. Can you sum it all up in one word? Is there one word that captures the essence of 2013 for you? If it was a good year you probably had a lot of “buzzworthy” news to share. If it was an odd year, maybe it was because you just learned what “twerking” is.  If it was an abbreviated year, maybe it’s when you found yourself using shortened words – not just on Twitter – srsly. It’s hard to capture a year in a word, but Oxford Dictionaries rises to the challenge annually when it selects it’s “Word of the Year.”

This year’s “Word of the Year” may have been banished by Lake Superior State University’s 39th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness, but it took the top spot for Oxford Dictionaries. You guessed it, the 2013 “Word of the Year” is “selfie.” Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that selfies were everywhere in 2013 and don’t seem to fading away anytime soon. “Selfie” is also among the new words added to the Oxford Dictionaries in 2013, making it in a word – legit.

Credit: Ellen Degeneres

Credit: Ellen Degeneres

What does it take to be named “Word of the Year” and be entered into the dictionary? Of all the words in our language how does one beat out the rest for the top spot? We find out today, as we continue our series on Words and Word Choice and speak with Allison Wright, an editor for Oxford Dictionaries. Allison shares with us the history of Oxford Dictionaries’ “Word of the Year,” the selection process, and some thoughts on why more non-traditional words such as acronyms and abbreviations are being added to the dictionary. We welcome her insight.

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When did Oxford Dictionaries first start selecting a Word if the Year?
In 2004, the UK and US dictionary teams at Oxford University Press selected “chav” as the first Word of the Year. Since then, of the sixteen other words to hold the title over the years, only two were also joint UK/US selections – “squeezed middle” (2011) and “selfie” (2013).

President Obama takes a selfie with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt. (Credit: Getty Images)

President Obama takes a selfie with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt.
(Credit: Getty Images)

What criteria are used to determine which word will be named Word of the Year?
The Oxford Dictionaries team keeps track of trends in, and new usages of, words and expressions throughout the year. Words of the Year must have attracted a great deal of interest and usually reflect the ethos of that year. They don’t have to be new words, but they do have to have become prominent or notable during that time. The selection committee, made up of editors, lexicographers, consultants, and members of Oxford University Press’s marketing and publicity teams, discusses the merits of each Word of the Year candidate, and after deliberation we come to a decision. Some years it’s easier to identify a clear frontrunner, while in others it’s a bit more challenging.

How many words were entered or considered? Is that a fairly typical amount from year to year?
There’s no limit to the number of words that are considered for Word of the Year. We add words to a long list throughout the year and determine which of them has shown staying power and which are more like flash-in-the-pan words that spiked in usage over a given month or so – typically due to extensive coverage in the news. Last year, “Harlem shake” and “fatberg” fell into the flash-in-the-pan category. Last year’s Word of the Year shortlist, which is culled down from the longer list, had 7 words: bedroom tax, binge-watch, bitcoin, olinguito, schmeat, showrooming, and twerk.

Oxford Dictionaries chose “Selfie” as their word of the year for 2013. Why was this word selected?
Our language research found that “selfie” showed overwhelmingly strong usage in 2013, much more so than in 2012. One of the computational tools we use to track evidence of real English usage is the New Monitor Corpus, a program that collects 150 million words each month from new web content. It revealed a frequency increase of 17,000% of the word from the previous year. We’ve also found “selfie” to be linguistically productive. Several new derivatives and spin-off words have developed and have been especially useful for describing different types of selfie, including the “melfie”, a selfie of one’s mustache, “drelfie,” a drunk selfie, “belfie,” a selfie of one’s butt, and “legsie,” a selfie of one’s legs.

Credit: Twitter user @MarsCuriosity

Credit: Twitter user @MarsCuriosity

What type of reaction did you receive to “Selfie” being selected as Word of the Year?
The reaction to our Word of the Year announcement was largely positive, and as you can imagine, quite vocal. Thanks to social media, Twitter in particular, we were able to see reactions in real time. People tweeted us their own selfies, and we received a few specially notable ones – members of the Golden State Warriors NBA team sent in a few  as did the Mars “Curiosity” Rover.

Different words are chosen as “Word of the Year” for different versions of Oxford Dictionaries. For example the 2012 Word of the Year for the United Kingdom version was “omnishambles” while it was “to GIF” for the American version.  Why is it important to have different Words of the Year for the different versions of Oxford Dictionaries? What does this say about the cultures represented by the different versions of the dictionaries? Were Americans just more focused on advancements in social media and technology than the British in 2012?
Vocabularies and language use develop differently in each country, and in some years, our Word of the Year selections reflect that difference. Our editorial staff in the US and UK keeps track of happenings in the news and popular culture, and when we find diverging trends – the near ubiquity of a word or expression in one country that for whatever reason fails to catch on across the pond, for example – the selection committee decides against a joint Word of the Year.

In 2012, “omnishambles” was one of those words you couldn’t escape in the UK thanks to the popularity of its source of origin, the TV series The Thick of It, as well as the numerous political and non-political occurrences in the UK throughout that year that could so easily be classified as “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged.” Use of the word in the US, however, never really took off, and so the decision was made to announce different Words of the Year for the US and UK.

We’d also found the effects that the rise in popularity of GIF-making had on language to be an interesting phenomenon in 2012. The ease at which social media enabled people to display and share material created in the GIF format allowed for the spread in usage of different forms of the word, like the use of “gif” as a verb or as an adjective “gifable.” The selection of “to GIF” as the US Word of the Year is a mark of the efforts of Oxford Dictionaries to stay on top of the ways technological innovation and creativity influence our culture.

How often does Oxford Dictionaries add new words?
To keep up to date with the latest developments in the English language, we add new words and senses and revise entries in our online dictionaries several times a year. Oxforddictionaries.com, which focuses on current English and practical usage, will add thousands of new words each year. Oxford English Dictionary Online, which shows how words and meanings have changed over time, will also add a few thousand words in new entries and sub-entries each year.

Credit: Global Language Monitor

Credit: Global Language Monitor

How are new words selected to be added to Oxford Dictionaries?
The most generalized answer would be to say that new words qualify for inclusion in our dictionaries when there is enough evidence of their use, however, the process is a bit more involved and inclusion criteria differs across dictionaries.

For words added to oxforddictionaries.com, lexicographers use a number of sources to gather evidence of a new coinage or usage. The Oxford English Corpus is used to analyze language found in writing all over the Web, and the Reading Program, which tasks people worldwide to read books, magazines, newspapers, scripts, and other printed material, collects new and interesting instances of words, phrases, and expressions for deeper investigation. Potential new words are also spotted in the wild, in general encounters with the English language in everyday life. Oxford Dictionaries editors and users frequently submit new word suggestions.

Once a suggested word is submitted for researching, lexicographers will assess it along a number of criteria, including whether usage is limited to a specific group of people (like teenagers or a sub-group of commenters on an online community forum) or if it is found in a variety of different sources and used by many different writers; whether it has any staying power in English usage; whether it shows linguistic productivity (e.g. if it has any derivative forms) or broader use outside of its most immediate context; and any other relevant factors.

If the word is selected for inclusion, it will be assigned for further research and definition drafting; if not, it may continue to be monitored for future inclusion if more supporting evidence emerges.

Credit: Career Options Magazine

Credit: Career Options Magazine

“Srsly,” “apols,” and “FIL (Father-in-Law),” were among some of the new words added to Oxford Dictionaries last year. Are you seeing a trend of more abbreviations and acronyms being included as words? What do you attribute this to?
Acronyms and abbreviations certainly have their value when space constraints (such as Twitter character limits) are a concern. If they are used and understood widely enough, it’s even possible that they cease to be seen as shortened forms of longer words altogether. See: scuba, blog, and CD.

It may seem like a more recent trend, but really people have always had an affinity for shortenings, contractions, abbreviations, and acronyms. We’ve found evidence for “srsly” being used as early as the 18th century, “and “OMG” has been in use since at least 1917. It’s the job of lexicographers to accurately and comprehensively record these kinds of constructions regardless of any perceived “merits.”

Oxford Dictionaries also offers a Word of the Day on its website. How are these words chosen and what is goal of this feature?
The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Day is a word that typically has a particularly interesting meaning. The words are selected by editorial and marketing staff and then loaded onto the website and prepared for the email newsletter with the help of Oxford University Press’ tech teams. Sometimes words will be assigned to a specific day if it’s appropriate. For example, scriptorium was chosen for February 7th this year because that was also James Murray’s birthday anniversary. Murray, the first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, famously worked in a scriptorium.

The goal of the feature is to offer our audiences another look into the breadth of our language. Many people use dictionaries just to find definitions for known words; the Word of the Day invites them to explore vocabulary that may be unfamiliar or underused.

Credit: Bubblews L.L.C.

Credit: Bubblews L.L.C.

What was your favorite new word added to Oxford Dictionaries in 2013?
My favorite “new word” added to oxforddictionaries.com in 2013 is me time, an informal noun defined as “time spent relaxing on one’s own as opposed to working or doing things for others, seen as an opportunity to reduce stress or restore energy.”

I think everyone, everywhere, can make good use of “me time”— in communication and in practice.

 

Any guess as to what words may be added during the next update?
I have an idea of what will be added in the next update, but I’d hate to ruin the surprise! Follow us @OxfordWords to stay tuned.

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What was your favorite word in 2013? Share some with us or send us a selfie.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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But first, let us take a #selfie

To kick off our series on words, we caught up with Tom Pink at Lake Superior State University (LSSU). Our readers might remember his commentary last year on LSSU’s 2012 Banished Words List. The latest installment of the annual list published every New Year’s Day features a smattering of old favorites – or rather, least favorites – like “Mr. Mom” and “hashtag” among them. There’s a new self-centered word joining them: the omnipresent “selfie.” Read on for the full scoop about how we’ve focused the camera not just on ourselves, but on a few new least-favorite words.

Credit: #SELFIE (Official Musica Video) – The Chainsmokers

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The word that received the most nominations this year (2013) was “selfie.” Ironically, the Oxford Dictionary also named this word their “Word of the Year.” Why do you think “selfie” took the top spot on your list compared to the other words and phrases?

Ha! We look forward to the Oxford list every year because invariably their “Word of the Year” will end up being one of ours, too. “Selfie” received the top spot this year in part because it received the most nominations. As is often the case with our nominations, people said they objected to the act itself as well as the word. The many celebrities and politicians who published “selfies” over the past year certainly helped propel this word to the top of our list.

Credit: bellenews.com

Credit: bellenews.com

How does the selection committee decide which nominated words are worthy of making the list?

We look at a few things when we’re considering words and phrases to banish. While the number of nominations certainly helps push a word to the list, it’s not the only way it makes it, and it doesn’t guarantee inclusion. We give serious consideration to the words and phrases that receive the most nominations, but we also try to keep with intentions of the list’s creator, Bill Rabe, who had a great sense of humor and liked to keep the list light-hearted. If we read a nomination and it makes everyone on the committee laugh, there’s a good chance it will at least go into the “maybe” pile.

Do students and staff at LSSU get into the fun each year? Is there excitement on campus leading up to the announcement of banished words list?

In recent years, probably due to increased presence in social media and internet web sites, there is a bit more excitement on campus about the list. However, the list is usually pulled together during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when the semester is over and the campus is closed. Because of that, it’s often difficult for us to get many students and faculty involved in the selection. We do get a fair number of students and employees who submit nominations, though.

Credit: LSSU.edu

Credit: LSSU.edu

What has been your favorite banished word during the 40 years that LSSU has created this list?

That’s a tough one. Some of them stick in my head because they are used so often. A good example is the redundant “safe haven.” That was banished in 1993 but is still widely used in news reports. Some of my favorites are words and phrases that didn’t make the list. For example, I remember one year someone made me chuckle when he nominated “legally drunk” in reference, of course, to exceeding the legal limit of alcohol allowed in one’s blood when he or she is operating an automobile. It’s a weird phrase on its own. The nominator said that if we extend the logic, then there must be occasions when someone is “illegally sober.” I still smile at that one, but we didn’t include it on the list because it was too close to “alcohol-related drunk driving,” which we had included on the list in 1989.

Last year you mentioned that the majority of nominations were received through email or your web page. Have you seen an increased response across your social media platforms? If so what do you attribute to this increase?

We have definitely seen an increased response through social media. We would probably attribute that to the fact that more and more people are getting their “news” through those sorts of outlets, and more and more people are using their mobile devices to get their news and to access the internet. Stories fly around the internet so much faster than Bill Rabe ever could have imagined when he devised this list. The news is shared in ways that he couldn’t have imagined, either. Because of that, social media is figuring more and more into the way we publicize the list and into the way we solicit nominations…..Just as news travels faster these days, the news cycle is shorter, too. In the 1990s, we spent three-to-four weeks booking radio and newspaper interviews, especially radio. Talk show hosts loved the list. They still do. But we do fewer hour-long, call-in talk shows than we used to do back then. Most interviews, whether live or recorded, are 5-15 minutes. The intense period of interviews after the list is published, that used to be spread out over a few weeks, is now shortened to a week or less.

Credit: socialated.com

Credit: socialated.com

“Hashtag” made the list this year and many nominations used hashtags in their response. Do you think this a word that the social media savvy love to hate? Is it a necessary evil?

It certainly may be. We think that hashtags serve a purpose on blogs and social media when people are sharing information. However, when the word began showing up in conversations as a supposed cute way of drawing attention to the point a person was trying to make, nominators told us that they soon became sick of it.

Following your ban of “-ageddon” and “-pocolypse” do you expect to see more prefixes and suffixes making their way onto the list in addition to stand alone words and phrases?

We often get nominations for prefixes and suffixes and usually we don’t include them unless there is a strong case to do so. There have been some notable exceptions, such as the “-gate” suffix used so often in politics. This year, with so many people feeling the effects of extreme weather and so many news reports including those suffixes, we included those two. We’ll see what the future brings.

Credit: caravantasia.com

Credit: caravantasia.com

The list also banishes words that are misused. What do you think was the most misused word this year and why do you think people seem to have a tough time using it correctly?

I guess my favorite this year for “mis-use” is ‘T-bone’ when used to describe a traffic accident. I understand people using that word in casual conversation, but when news anchors on radio and TV started using it in their reports, that’s just ridiculous.

What is your favorite word or phrase that has been banished this year and why?

My favorite this year would have to be “Mr. Mom.” We were surprised when it kept showing up in the nominations 30 years after the Michael Keaton movie made it famous. I like how those who nominated it feel so passionate about their reasons for wanting it banished, and I like how it makes people stand back and say, “Huh?” I also appreciate how its newly found disfavor is a reflection on the changes we’ve seen in our society. These days, you don’t know who’s staying home with the kids – it could be “Mr. Mom,” or “Mrs. Dad.”

mr-mom

Credit: Mr. Mom (1983)

Are you already receiving nominations for words to be added to next year’s list of banished words? Any guesses as to what words and phrases may appear on the 2014 list?

Oh, yes. We probably get most of our nominations in January and December when the list is on people’s minds more than it is during summer vacation. It’s difficult to say what may make the list in 2015. We see TBT (Throwback Thursday) and Polar Vortex among the nominations, but it’s difficult to say if they will “stick” later this year. “Curate” is another that has been showing up in recent years. That may be a front-runner for 2015.

Next year the List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General usefulness turns 40. Is anything planned to celebrate the list on its big anniversary?

No definite plans, but again, one never knows what will happen between now and New Year’s Eve.

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If you’d like to keep up with LSSU or send in your own nomination, visit http://www.lssu.edu/banished or email banish@lssu.edu. Many thanks to Tom Pink for his insights the past two years! We’re curious: do our readers have any words in mind that ought to be banished?

Julia Smith, Project Assistant
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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