Brow Beat

Word of the Year: The Case for Hate-Watching

Jeff Daniels on The Newsroom, a show many people hate-watched in 2012

Photo by Melissa Moseley – © HBO

The most authoritative word-of-the-year selection, in Brow Beat’s collective view, comes from the American Dialect Society. We won’t know their choice for another week, though: Formal nominations will be made at their upcoming annual meeting, with the final vote happening on Friday.

But the chair of the ADS’s New Words Committee—and Slate contributor—Ben Zimmer was on NPR this morning discussing some of the verbal candidates likely to be considered. Among them are several terms deployed repeatedly during coverage of  major 2012 news events, such as fiscal cliff and superstorm. Those two are both solid choices—they’re certainly ubiquitous enough, and each, obviously, captures something about the current moment. Insofar as superstorms are the wave of the future, so to speak, that term will likely only grow in relevance, another reason to support it.

Another news-related suggestion, 47 percent, seems a bit specific; as part of the general drift towards understanding politics demographically (like its linguistic kin, the 1 percent and the 99 percent), it has considerable resonance. But on its own the two-word phrase primarily evokes a single politician and one really gripping, secretly taped video.

Less appealing candidates include malarkeywe love Joe Biden, but dropping a century-old bit of Irish-American slang once or twice in a political debate hardly makes it a word of the year—and double down, which, while it’s one of the year’s more omnipresent clichés, seems, partly for that reason, almost devoid of any real meaning at this point. (The fact that it’s so popular with politicians and pundits probably doesn’t help it any in that respect.)

I’m going to pass over YOLO without comment.

Which brings me to my favorite of the candidates Zimmer mentions: hate-watching. Perhaps this is just the bias of someone who focuses on arts and culture rather than news and politics, but that phrase seems more linguistically rich than the newsier phrases above. For one thing, it has spawned related terms, such as hate-reading and the less common hate-listening. As a character in a webcomic said to her significant other back in March, “why don’t you hate-do something”?

I’m not entirely sure which of these hate-related coinages came first, but a cursory investigation suggests that hate-watching was primary—and it certainly has more cultural currency than its verbal cousins. All of them, though, capture something that is hard to describe any other way: the pleasure many people take in despising things.

It’s not a brand-new word; its first appearance in this magazine seems to be from 2009, in a blog post from Jessica Grose, and a little Googling turns up earlier usages elsewhere. But it hit the mainstream this year—and Slate’s Culture Gabfesters weren’t the only ones who thought so.

Presumably people did this before the term was around, but its appearance suggests that perhaps the activity has (sadly?) become more widespread in our day. And I don’t see it becoming less popular any time soon. If I could vote next Friday, I’d raise my hand for hate-watching.

Update: In an email, Zimmer points me to the appearance of hate/watch on Television Without Pity back in 2005, and also notes that Emily Nussbaum (who brought the term to the website of The New Yorker this year) was a regular reader of that site. See this recent Word Routes column for more.