My Bet for 2009 Word of the Year

Most word nuts know Merriam-Webster named “bailout” its 2008 Word of the Year (for obvious reasons). I’ve got a leading contender for this year’s honor: transparency.


When I was growing up, I associated transparency with ghosts — usually the friendly kind. After I gave up cartoons, I learned a more negative connotation for the word. As the American Heritage Dictionary puts it, “easily seen through or detected; obvious: transparent lies.”


That’s the definition that usually popped to mind when transparency came up. Richard Nixon desperately covering up his misdeeds circa 1974; now that was a transparent act. The same went for celebrities getting caught with hookers and/or cheating on their wives. Their excuses always seemed so transparent. And that was a bad thing.


I’m convinced Barack Obama is out to change people’s (or at least my) perception of transparency. Google “Obama+transparency” and see for yourself. There are nearly 5.7 million search results as of this writing, and he’s not even four weeks into his presidency.


A White House memorandum titled “Transparency and Open Government” promises his administration will “establish a system of transparency” and that “transparency promotes accountability.” The Obama administration pledges more “transparency” in the government bailout (there’s that word again) plan for banks. A spokeswoman says the Obama office’s weekly YouTube address is “just one of many ways that he will … make the White House and the political process more transparent.”


Now, transparency as Obama defines it is a worthy goal. But does a prerecorded video posted on the Internet really qualify as a transparent act, free from the taint of political spin? Um … not really. All I’m saying is this, President Obama: If you’re going to beat this word into the ground over the next four to eight years, at least make sure you use it right. After all, you wouldn’t want to be accused of spreading transparent lies.

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