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What were the preoccupations of 2010? What did we say that we never said before? What happened and how did it change our language?

For the past six years I’ve written a words of the year piece for the New York Times. This year, I’m also happy to bring you San Diego’s words of 2010. Seeing how the lexis changed is a way of reviewing the year.

My criteria were that a word be new or newly prominent, that it be used frequently or in a highly visible way and that it be relevant or important to both San Diego and 2010.

For each word, I’ve included a part of speech, a short explanation or definition, a little about how it came into our discourse, and whatever I could find out about its history. I’ve also included a note as to its aesthetics — how it sounds or looks, or what it connotes in the mind — as well as a prediction as to how well the word will do in the future.

If you don’t find your favorite San Diego word of 2010 on the list, be your own lexicographer: define it and describe it in the comments so we understand what it means to you.

I’ll be talking about all the words of the year on KPBS’s These Days tomorrow, Thursday Dec. 23, at 10 a.m.


blurb noun. A suburban neighborhood with urban characteristics. Also blurban, adjective. Used by its developer, Sudberry Properties, to describe Civita, a large planned community in Mission Valley.

Origin: Blurb is a blend of suburban and urban, according to a quote from Marco Sessa, Sudberry vice president, in the Union-Tribune. However, it is an orthographically nonstandard blend, as the root urban is contained wholly within suburban, and there is no L in either word.

Aesthetics: Poor. It is discomfiting for some people to say or hear, and may suggest words like blab, babble, blob or blubber.

Prospects: Very poor, as it is likely to be misunderstood. Besides the coinage colliding with the already widespread blurb meaning of “a short description or recommendation, such as for a book or movie,” which dates to 1914, blurban has also been used to mean “black and urban.”


bomb factory, bomb house noun. The Escondido home where authorities found a store of explosive chemicals, devices and grenades. The house was burned to the ground by officials to dispose of the explosives. George Djura Jakubec has been charged with making the devices.

Origin: The two terms are typical, unremarkable coinages that follow standard patterns for forming English compounds. Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez was among the many who publicly called it a bomb factory.

Aesthetics: Ordinary.

Prospects: The terms are likely to be in common use only as long as it takes for the legal cases to run their courses.


brownout noun. A temporary, planned reduction in firefighters available for duty. Though discussed as a possibility prior to 2010, the increasing acknowledgement of San Diego’s budget troubles made brownouts a hotter topic during 2010.

Origin: In a Los Angeles police context in 1979-80 it meant downtime during which police were less available to respond to calls because of shift scheduling and staffing issues. It comes from the more well-known and widespread brownout which refers to the temporary reduction in the force or availability of electrical power.

Aesthetics: Likely to mislead or mystify unless it appears with sufficient context.

Prospects: Good. Besides San Diego, brownouts have been discussed as a budget-saving mechanism in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Boston.


Chelsea’s Law noun. A law which increases the penalties for people convicted of some sexual crimes. Among other things, it requires imprisonment without parole for violent sex offenses, such as an attack on a child.

Origin: The law is named for 17-year-old Chelsea King of Poway, who was raped and murdered in February by a man on parole after serving five years in prison for molesting a young teenage girl.

Aesthetics: Bittersweet. While the law’s name recalls horrific events, it also recalls the mass efforts of a community to make sure they did not happen again, as well as memories of the young woman for whom the law is named.

Prospects: Likely to be invoked whenever violent sexual crimes are prosecuted or discussed.


Chia Center noun. The proposed convention center expansion, which includes a rooftop garden.

Origin: Coined by voiceofsandiego.org CEO Scott Lewis, in reference to the brand name Chia terra cotta figures that sprout plants where hair or fur would otherwise be. Chia is the Spanish common name for Salvia columbariae, which is native to California and the Great Basin. It has also been known as annual sage or golden sage.

Aesthetics: Funny.

Prospects: Very poor. Nobody else seems to have taken it up.


Compton cookout noun. A party mocking Black History Month held by the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at UCSD, in which attendees were asked to portray stereotypes of African-American behavior, speech and clothing.

Origin: The Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles was likely chosen as part of the name because it is often stereotyped as a poor and dangerous black neighborhood, and has long figured largely in the background of hip-hop artists, among them N.W.A. and Eazy-E. But, as of the 2000 Census, there were slightly more Hispanics of any race in Compton than there were blacks or African-Americans. Compton is also often remembered for the 1992 riots after the acquittal of four white police officers accused of beating of black motorist Rodney King.

Aesthetics: One point for alliteration, minus a million for bad taste and racism.

Prospects: Infamous. Unlikely to be used again as the name of an event, though likely to be remembered for years.


Geezer Bandit noun. A bank robber, apparently 60 to 70 years old, who has robbed a dozen banks in southern California since August 2009. I write “apparently” because many people think it may be a young person in an old man mask.

Origin: Named by the FBI for his apparent age. Geezer is common informal English for an old man, probably from Scots guiser ‘a person in disguise.’

Aesthetics: Functional.

Prospects: Good until he’s caught and we learn his real name.


jack weenie noun. Nothing.

Origin: From a quote by imprisoned ex-congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, talking about life in prison: “I didn’t know jack weenie about what people were going through in here.” It seems to be a one-off (nonce) formation based on jack squat or jack shit. Jack-weenie is also a name for Jack Russell-dachshund mixed-breed dogs.

Aesthetics: Seems naughty but isn’t, which piques the mind.

Prospects: Mainly a curiosity even now when it is new. It is unlikely to last.


junk noun. The genitals or crotch. It is a singulare tantum, meaning the word, with this sense, cannot be plural. It also often takes the definite pronoun: the junk.

Origin: Brought to our attention in 2010 by John Tyner, a programmer from Oceanside who, when traveling through Lindbergh Field in San Diego, took offense at the security patdown and told a security official, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” The term was also widely used this year to refer to nude pictures of quarterback Brett Favre. Junk meaning “genitals” or “buttocks” has existed in English slang since at least as early as the mid-1980s. The term probably comes from gay culture through the fiction of Ethan Mordden, whose use of the word is the earliest so far found in print. There’s no evidence that it is connected to junk in the trunk meaning “having a big butt.”

Aesthetics: Awkward but delivers a sure frisson by allowing taboo topics to be discussed without overmuch risk of offending.

Prospects: Sure to thrive for a good while until it is replaced by yet another word for the same thing.


nego noun. Used by Port Commissioner Steve Cushman to refer to opponents of port projects.

Origin: Dates to at least 1962, as shown by this trend article in Life magazine about negos at America’s prep schools. In that usage, they were the rebels and free-thinkers who bucked trends, questioned the world, and struck out on their own paths. Ron Reagan was also supposedly a long-haired, pot-smoking nego when he was at the Webb School in Claremont, Calif. Nego is directly related to the Latin verb negare, meaning “deny or refuse” or “to say no,” and to words such as negate and negative.

Aesthetics: Transparent in meaning with little explanation needed, though not particularly mellifluous to the ear.

Prospects: Will continue on its downward arc into obscurity.


porkfest noun. Late-night, last-minute state legislation that lifts the cap on the amount of money the city can spend on a redevelopment downtown, which benefits plans to put a new Chargers’ stadium there.

Origin: First used to describe this particular legislation by staff of voiceofsandiego.org, but it has been used in a political sense as a one- or two-word compound for more than a century. As a reference to a pork barbecue party, the term is still older. The word is formed from a blend of pork, which is short for pork barrel and refers to the use of government money for legislators’ pet projects, especially those than are intended to bring votes, and -fest, a suffix used to form nouns that mean a celebration or gathering of a certain kind, such as a gabfest or slugfest.

Aesthetics: A highly useful, well-formed word, transparent within the political contexts in which it is usually used.

Prospects: This term shows every sign of being alive and well and will likely continue to be used outside of this specific case.


PubMayoFaulconMaio adjective. Coined by businessman Vince Mudd to describe the sources of a plan for fixing the city of San Diego’s budget deficit.

Origin: A blend of the four contributors to the overall plan: the public, Mayor Jerry Sanders, Councilman Kevin Faulconer and Councilman Carl DeMaio.

Aesthetics: Hit every branch when it fell out of the ugly tree.

Prospects: DOA.


reform before revenue noun. Originally, reform before revenue was the philosophy of Lani Lutar, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association head, and other anti-tax advocates who held that the city should reduce costs (especially labor and retirement benefits) before it ever even considered raising taxes. In the midst of heated negotiations over placing a tax on the ballot, the term was forcefully appropriated by the pro-tax crowd. In Prop D, they tied a half-cent sales tax increase to the completion of certain reforms.

Origin: Reform before revenue was widely used in Massachusetts politics in 2009 and first appeared in San Diego media in the spring of 2010.

Aesthetics: Political jargon is like axle grease: forgettable but it does its job.

Prospects: The idea persists but the term may now have a taint of failure about it and is far less likely to be used in San Diego again.


Zapf’d adjective. Beaten by Republican Councilwoman Lorie Zapf.

Origin: Coined at San Diego CityBeat to describe Zapf’s victory over Howard Wayne in the primaries, which happened despite the fact that “CityBeat handed them the tools to take Zapf down.” Zapf opponents turned it into a campaign slogan — “Don’t Get Zapf’d” — which they used on campaign flyers, in a Facebook group, and on a satirical Twitter account.

Aesthetics: Onomatopoeically suggests a bug-zapper.

Prospects: Likely to resurface as long as Zapf is in politics.

Thanks for suggesting words for this list go to Kelly Davis and Dave Maass of CityBeat, William Osborne and Matthew Perry of the Union-Tribune, Rachel Laing of the mayor’s office, Jeffrey Davis, Jason Everitt, and my coworkers Liam Dillon, Andrew Donohue, Randy Dotinga, Keegan Kyle and Summer Polacek.

I’m Grant Barrett, engagement editor for voiceofsandiego.org. Drop me a line at grant@voiceofsandiego.org, call me at (619) 550-5666, and follow me on Twitter @grantbarrett.

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