V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Eco-word of the year

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, January, 2009

The word of the year for 2008 is hypermile.

To hypermile is to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to driving techniques.

It took a lot of back-and-forth between the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary before they finally come to a concensus, says Sarah Hilliard.

They were in a rut for a long time, she said, tossing around words that didn't fully inspire them.

Over the last two years, the dictionary has crowned environmental terms such as "carbon neutral" and "locavore" as words of the year. They wanted to get away from the environment, though, and validate a word that would encapsulate the world of 2008.

Hypermile was to reflect the the stunning downturn in the global economy, skyrocketing gas prices and the debate surrounding America's dependence on foreign oil.

But in choosing a term about fuel-efficiency, lexicographers underscored -- for the third year in a row -- just how pervasive the environment has become in modern vernacular. More importantly, it also serves as a poignant reminder that the environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive.

"We came up with hypermiling from an economic standpoint," Hilliard said in a phone interview from New York. "It is interesting that hypermiling covers both common sources of angst: The environment and the economy."

The term hypermiling was first coined in 2004 by Wayne Gerdes who runs the website cleanmpg.com, an online community dedicated to raising a car's fuel economy and lowering emissions.

New words exemplify the "spirit of the times," adds David Stover, president of the Oxford University Press Canada, and chart turning points in society.

For example, in the 1960s, the space program was at the forefront of people's minds, he says, and terms previously understood only by astronomers entered everyday language.

"A lot of the ecological terms used now were, at one time, specialized terms," Stover said. "Now we all talk about 'footprint' in various ways."

Other words which made the shortlist this year include more green terms,like ecohacking, staycation and frugalista.

The selection process is a subjective one, Hilliard said, as there's no frequency of use or quota the word has to meet. Reading programs track newspapers and online communities like blogs and forums for new words.

"They're words that have become central to the happenings of the year, words that capture the Zeitgeist," Hilliard said.

Adds Stover: "The fact is that the environment is at the forefront of everyone's minds."

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SOME ECO-TERMINOLOGY

HYPERMILING

Hypermilers maintain the speed limit, avoid hills, refrain from idling and maintain proper tire pressure in order to maximize their fuel efficiency.

Extreme hypermilers have been criticized for dangerous driving behaviour that includes rolling through stop signs and following closely behind large vehicles to cut down on wind resistance.

During the U.S. election campaign, editors at the Oxford University Press point that president-elect Barack Obama encouraged Americans to keep their tires properly inflated to save oil.

Since we Canadians use the metric system, the word hasn't gained as much traction here. Hyper-kilometre-ing doesn't have the same ring.

ECOHACKING (also known as geoengineering): The use of science in very large-scale projects to change the environment for the better or to stop global warming.

FRUGALISTA: Person who leads a frugal lifestyle, but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying second-hand, growing own produce, etc.

STAYCATION: Vacation taken at or near one's home, taking day trips, etc.

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