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Page last updated at 10:09 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

Can one word sum up this decade?


As we enter the last few weeks of the 2000s, the Magazine is enlisting readers to tell the story of the last 10 years, based on five themes. Wordsmith Susie Dent begins the series with some suggestions for "words of the decade".

Language, as an American lexicographer once neatly put it, "is an uncompromising mirror... an untouched record of the thoughts, feelings, successes, failures, and intent of the people".

Portrait of the Decade logo
We want readers to help us to create a portrait of the decade
Each day this week we focus on a different theme - words, people, news, objects and culture
Readers can make their suggestions using the form below
Try to be original
It is not a vote - an expert will pick 20 in each category
The final 100 things about the Noughties will be revealed on Monday, 14 December
An artist will illustrate them on a colour poster for readers

We are what we say, and as a shorthand summary of a single event or period in time, a word or phrase that came into prominence is hard to beat.

This opening decade of the 2000s - for which the nickname Noughties ultimately pipped all others - has generated a wealth of new words, and their resonance is likely to provoke strong memories.

Some of them are inextricably tied up with single events: 9/11 has become the only reference necessary to describe the terrorist attacks against America in 2001, events which spawned many further expressions, including axis of evil and moral crusade as well as allegations of sexing up and dodgy dossiers. More recently the current Great Recession has spawned a bemusing lexicon full of toxic debt and quantitative easing.

Neologisms - brand new words - speak strongly for the times they were coined for, even the fun ones. Bling characterised for many the opening years of the century, the perfect description of a celebrity- (or nonebrity-) obsessed culture intent on being as flashy as the people it idolised. Social networking has added a new flavour to our language: Twitter alone has given us tweets, twitts - even tweet-ups among the Twitterati.


The contributions are now closed

We will publish a list of 20 of your words of the decade on Monday

Poking, to take just one word from the Facebook lexicon, is not a new word - it has simply taken on a new sense.

In fact many, if not most, of our "new" words are born of the same process of reinvention, including what is undoubtedly one of the most prominent words of the century thus far: chav. Once a Romany word meaning "child" (chavi) more than 150 years ago, it was relaunched quite spectacularly in 2005 when it became one of the most powerful (and derogatory) social labels in recent memory.

Some little-known terms also gained higher profile: as 2004 ended, the Asian tsunami forced a word unknown to many into the everyday vocabulary of millions. Closer to home, few people would have known about water bowsers - or predicted their value to thousands of flood-affected Britons in the summer of 2007.

Susie Dent
Susie Dent is the resident word expert on Channel 4's Countdown. She has written several books on language change including a regular survey of language trends and new words, The Language Report and Susie Dent's Words of the Year, both published by the Oxford University Press. She also contributes a weekly column, Dictionary Corner, to Radio Times

Green has been indisputably the colour of the decade, leaving its carbon footprint across its years and prompting, among so much else, the arrival of Britain's first eco-towns. The threat of ecological disaster has been joined this year by fears of swine flu - itself overtaking the nightmare possibilities of H5N1 - and of an epidemic of globesity.

These are just some of the words characterising the last 10 years - there are many more to choose from and this is where you come in.

We want you to choose your word or words of the decade.

There is some flexibility about what kind of words and phrases are allowed, as long as they are actually used (does anyone really say staycation or is just a journalistic invention?). Proprietary names are also fine - we are, after all, the iPod generation.

Acronyms like Asbo or initialisms like WMD are acceptable, but people's names are not admissible (you can have your say about people of the decade on Tuesday), unless they transcend their names, as in Blairism or the Jade effect.

Otherwise, the choice is all yours. As a meerkat would say, simples.

We have now stopped accepting your suggestions, but thanks to all who have contributed. The series continues all week and the Portrait of the Decade will be published on Monday

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