It's that time of the year when various organizations around the world drum up a bit of PR for themselves by selecting a Word Of The Year, which is then picked up by news outlets looking for filler.
Let's do a short hop around the world. This year's kanji character of the year in Japan, as selected by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation in Kyoto, is the one pictured here. Read as Gi or (with an additional hiragana character appended) Itswari, it means "fake" or "lie". It was a year of fakery and lying in Japan, lead by several incidents of food companies using out-of-date ingredients and faking labels, embezzlement scandals, faked up reports on TV, and the like. Not a very positive kind of word to be the One for the year. Last year's word was Life, and 2005's was Love, so I guess you can mark Japan as Mood: Down in 2007. (Japanese news link)
In Switzerland, the word of the year in the German speaking part of the country is Sterbetourismus, which means death tourism. (Swissinfo news link.) In Switzerland, assisted suicide is legal, and most Swiss people support it in polls, but quite a lot do not like the idea of foreigners travelling to the country to be helped to the other side. Only one organization does this, Dignitas, and they recently had some trouble renewing their lease because their neighbors in a suburb of Zürich didn't like to see the bodies coming out. (
Dignitas is a for-profit organization While Dignitas operates as a Verein, or a non-profit club, provide access to additional (legal) services (with associated fees), which has caused some controversy in the Swiss media, which is just one of the factorsin people's objections to it.) I think the real problem is that Swiss people don't like seeing the foreign press making a big to-do about it - especially the British press, since 10% of non-Swiss assisted suicide...patients? customers? are Brits. (There are few better at making a big to-do than the British press.) One of the main undercurrents of Swiss society is that they don't like a lot of attention and fuss.
[See edits above about Dignitas. Note though that this post is not a debate about the pros and cons of Dignitas or Sterbetourismus in and of themselves; it's just to point out that the topic has been a matter of controversy and debate in Switzerland recently.]
The runner-up word was Taschenmunition, ammunition that each Swiss soldier must keep at home. Switzerland still has national conscription, and every able bodied young male must serve some time in the military. That ammunition kept at home leads to hundreds of deaths per year, including one highly publicized accidental shooting of a 16 year old girl this year. I guess Switzerland's mood was not exactly on the upswing in 2007 either.
Finally we trot around to the USA, where the Merriam-Webster Dictionary people selected w00t as the word of the year. L33t. I'm not sure if the definition, as an expression of joy, is always accurate though - I've seen people use it instead of "WHAT??" almost as much too. But in any case it 's a bit more upbeat than lying and dying.