Considering the Lego-like malleability of letters and the ease with which new arrangements come into fashion, words have astonishing power — to provoke, irritate, catch a moment or a year in their syllables. Word of the Year is a game we play in North America every December, searching for the one arrangement of those bits of alphabet that perfectly reflects where we stand at this moment in the sweep of history.
Others play a different game: Words that should be wiped from our mouths.
Year-end is a time of holiday celebration. It’s also a time of taking stock, of looking Janus-like at what has transpired and what is yet to come. A time of resolutions and reaffirmations, and stoking the mind and heart with new, unimagined thoughts.
Fall is prize season, with awards tumbling down like apples from orchard trees. Many bookish folk fashion their winter reading lists from the finalists, thinking to broaden their reading reach. But what if the prizes themselves create enclaves into which only certain writers are allowed?