Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Monday, 14 December 2009

A portrait of the decade

Is it really possible to sum up a decade? With the help of thousands of readers, maybe it is. Last week, we asked for suggestions for the words, people, events, objects and cultural highlights which they thought defined the Noughties.

Our panel of five independent experts considered all the suggestions and have drawn up their list. You can also look at our UK readers' suggestions here .

The results below give a snapshot of who and what has shaped the past 10 years.


Our expert has picked 20 words from your suggestions which he believes sum up the decade. The following box includes a selection that require a definition. The rest are included further down.

Word Definition
Denglish English words mixing with German; one of the many -lishes, such as Chinglish and Hinglish
Emoticon Words without letters conveying emotional responses, such as smileys :-)
Fundoo Hinglish for 'fun;' another Hinglish creation is the very useful 'pre-pone,' the opposite of postpone
Hella An intensive in Youthspeak, generally substituting for the word 'very' as in 'hella expensive'
i- as in iPod A prefix used to indicate personal ownership (or the word 'my')
Meme An idea or concept that spreads 'virally' across the Internet
Misunderestimate One of the many neologisms unintentionally coined by US President George W Bush (aka Bushisms)
N00b A beginner or 'newbie', with numbers (in this case two zeroes) replacing the letter Os, a new trend in written English
OMG One of the first texting expressions (Oh my God!), another was BFF as in Best Friend Forever
Plutoed Being demoted from a planet to a 'plutoid'; generally not a good thing to happen. On social networks this is known as being 'unfriended'
Pwned Starting its life as a typo, now means owned (or dominated) by an enemy in 'gamer' jargon
Truthiness While something may not meet the standard of truth, it certainly appears to be true

Paul JJ Payack
Paul JJ Payack is the founding president of Texas-based Global Language Monitor (GLM) and

Assembling the language section of the Portrait of a Decade was a task of tremendous difficulty - not because of the paucity of words from which to choose but just the opposite.

The Noughties witnessed an explosion of word generation that hasn't been equalled since the Bard, himself, coined some 1700 words, some 400 years ago.

Carbon Footprint
Ground Zero

It also became clear with the words that you nominated that the world's 1.5 billion speakers of English come from as many differing backgrounds as you might imagine, which was clearly reflected in the nominated words.

For a decade that began with such promise, it quickly descended into a far more sobering reality of terror and war, with villages swept away and cities inundated. Nevertheless, the words you did choose demonstrate a deep hope in a vibrant future.


Events of the decade

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center hit by planes on 11 September 2001 (left) : An unidentified detainee at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad in late 2003
9/11: Abu Ghraib
Pakistan opposition leader and former premier Benazir Bhutto waves to her supporters before the suicide attack in Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007 (left): Headquarters of Enron Corp in Houston, Texas in January 2002.
Benazir Bhutto killed: Collapse of Enron
Displaced Sudanese woman in Darfur on 1 July 2004 (left): Construction in Pudong, Shanghai in 2005
Darfur crisis: Economic growth of India and China
Inaugural address of US President Barack Obama on 20 January 2009 (left) : Polish city of Slubice on 1 May 2004
Election of Barack Obama: Enlargement of the EU
Foreclosure sign on a house in East Palo Alto, California in May 2008 (left): A factory chimney emitting smoke in Bangalore 11 December 2009
Global recession: Global warming
An iPhone demonstration in California, January 2007 (left): US Marine covers the face of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad on 9 April 2003.
iTunes and iPhone launched: Invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan
Post-Katrina floodwaters in New Orleans Ninth Ward on 5 September 2005 (left): Banda Aceh in western Indonesia on 27 December 2004
Hurricane Katrina: Indian Ocean tsunami
Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel under attack on 29 November 2008 (left): Lehman Bros employee leaves its London offices on 15 September 2008.
Mumbai attacks: Collapse of Lehman Bros
Germany's first civil partnership ceremony on 1 April 2001 (left): Train bombing in Madrid on 11 March 2004
Legalisation of gay marriage: Madrid bombing
Examining a disputed ballot paper at Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on 24 November 2000 (left): Copies of a one-volume Wikipedia Encyclopaedia on display at Frankfurt Book Fair on 16 October 2008.
US Supreme Court names George W Bush election winner: Wikipedia launched
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The readers' list of big events of the past decade is surprising - not so much for what is in it, but for what is not. The launch of iTunes and the iPhone is included, but Facebook and YouTube are missing.

Daniel Franklin
Daniel Franklin is Executive Editor of The Economist and Editor of The Economist's annual publication, "The World in..."

Absent, too, are the sequencing of the human genome, the scandal of Bernie Madoff, the orange revolution in Ukraine. Bombings in Mumbai and Madrid get a mention, but not those in London and Bali.

The lesson is that any attempt to list the major events of a decade is almost bound to disappoint. It will miss things that some will consider vital. People's perceptions of what matters most will vary depending on where they live and what their values are.

So how to select 20 items from the longer list provided by readers? I wanted to include a broad range of events (from disasters to triumphs... triumphs, from social revolution to economic transformation) and of geography (from Africa to Asia).

And it seemed important to pick those that resonated far and wide rather than just locally. Whether or not you agree with the choices, the result is a thought-provoking snapshot of a dramatic decade.


Politicians and figures connected to the internet dominate the list of people who shaped the decade. A sprinkling of sports and personalities (and the odd celebrity) pretty much completes most of the list.

What does the composition of this list tell us about the last decade?

Professor Richard G Whitman
Professor Richard G Whitman is an Associate Fellow of Chatham House, home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a world-leading institute for the debate and analysis of international issues.

First, that political figures still grab our attention. A characteristic of the decade has been anxiety about the decline of politics, and especially public participation in politics through voting in 'the West'. Yet politicians clearly still matter and dominate our attention.

It is no surprise that Osama Bin Laden and George W Bush should make the list, as 9/11 has cast a long shadow over our decade and especially international relations. But politicians have also been nominated from every continent and clearly politicians' achievements - and infamy - still move us.

Second, this has been the decade in which the internet has become an everyday (and for many an every hour) experience for large parts of the globe. Many of the pioneers of this 'personal' computing and the world wide web make the list. Some of these, most notably Bill Gates and Larry Page, have also become the Carnegies and Rockefellers of our age: as notable for their income and philanthropy as for the origin of their wealth.

Finally, that the real spirit of the Noughties has been the ability to create fame and notoriety for reasons that can be separate from any source of obvious sporting, artistic, political or economic achievement.

A good sprinkling of the names on the list will certainly never win Nobel prizes, but have become household names through the most intimate details of their lives being played out through the media and the web.

For many US President Barack Obama would make this list because of his election. It was a magnificent achievement but doesn't define this decade for me. He may well define the next.


Ellis Cashmore
Ellis Cashmore is professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University, and author of Celebrity Culture.

It might once have been a helpful means of communicating information, but the worldwide web is now a place where people live and create new identities, or avatars, wherever they are in the world.

Think how many objects in our list have their origins in cyberspace: Google, MySpace, Wikipedia, social networking sites.

Second Life avatar
Bottled water
Breast implants
Four-wheel drives (SUVs)
Hybrid car
Memory stick
Reality TV
Reusable shopping bags
Sexy high-heeled Jimmy Choos
Social networking
Spy cameras
World Trade Center

And how many interface with it: Blackberries, iPods, memory sticks, MP3 players. These are objects that don't just surround us - they penetrate us.

Their effects have transformed our behaviour in the Noughties. All the objects on my list have changed us, often quite dramatically, and I don't just mean the changes in skin texture, body shape, or height, elicited by Botox, breast implants and five-inch heel Jimmy Choos.

We shouldn't underestimate the impact of reality TV on our conceptions of who should or shouldn't deserve to be famous. The format had its origins in the West has become a genuinely global object of fascination.

The planet has also changed as a result of climate change, though for every hybrid car, there seems to be two four-wheel drives, or SUVs, and the effects of reusable shopping bags are more than offset by the environmentally-malignant bottled water.

Finally: omissions - where are downloads, cybersex, carbon footprint, eBay and YouTube?


Harold Evans
Sir Harold Evans is a writer and broadcaster. His autobiography My Paper Chase, True Stories of Vanished Times, has just been published.

The choices of the BBC readers suggest that fantasy has been the central feature of the cultural life of the decade, and I think that's true.

How else does this explain the fact that millions were lost in the mists of the Lord of the Rings when they weren't obsessed by the fantastical adventures of Harry Potter or the imperishable Dr Who, and the recurring dreams of others chasing the moonbeams of stardom in the Idol series that swept over continents?

Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston)
Doctor Who
Harry Potter
Reality TV Shows
Idol - the phenomenon that ranged from the US to India
Lord of the Rings (the trilogy)
Slumdog Millionaire
Social media (Facebook, texting, Twitter)
Susan Boyle

Note our similar infatuation with fable in the excitement over the appealing Susan Boyle and Bollywood's Slumdog Millionaire, where once again innocent virtue triumphed over corruption and cynicism.

The reality shows that dominated so much of television might seem to qualify this judgment, but you had only to watch one series to appreciate that here, too, fantasy was in the ascendant since they, too, were dependent on exploiting dreams of fame and fortune.

My bet is that a lot of the social networking on e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and the like was as much about submerging oneself in the hot baths of gossip than as ruminating on reality. And who could blame everyone from wanting to escape from the hard truth of a horrible decade of terror, war and economic havoc?

In this section, due to the narrow range of readers' suggestions, we have only displayed ten picks, rather than 20.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

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