Why Tergiversate Is Our 2011 Word of the Year

There are essentially two ways to pick a “word of the year.” One common approach is to select from words whose common usage reflects some quality of the year past. Expect to see “occupy,” “winning,” etc., on many selections this December. Another way involves actually using the dictionary. Is there a word that captures the character of 2011, regardless of its popularity or ubiquity?

In late October, we asked our Facebook fans which method of selection they preferred. Almost 7 out of the 10 of them said it should be a word that aptly defines the spirit of 2011, even if the choice is obscure. We like to listen to our ardent supporters.

Just as you come to Dictionary.com in order to find the precise word you need, we spelunked through our corpus to find that perfect fit for 2011. And so we chose tergiversate, a rare word that means “to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.” The stock market, politicians and even public opinion polls have tergiversated all year long. Tergiversate is derived from the Latin word “vertere,” to turn. It shares a root with the words “verse” and “versus.” Can’t figure out how to pronounce it? Check out the audio pronunciation. One could say that events in Tahrir Square continue to tergiversate as sharply now as they did in the spring.

Here are a few examples of how the word has turned up in the press. On August 20th, 2011, in The Times of London, Oliver Kamm said, “The tergiversations of stock markets are often puzzling from the outside. They’re no less puzzling from within.” In September, the Baltimore Sun picked tergiversation as its word of the week. Last year in May of 2010, James Surowecki, a staff writer for the New Yorker, used the word to describe German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s economic choices: “Political risk is hard to manage because so much comes down to the personal choices of policymakers, whether prime ministers or heads of central banks. And those choices aren’t always going to be economically rational—witness Merkel’s recent tergiversations.”

To choose a word like “occupy,” “Arab Spring,” or “austerity” would be an evaluation of events from our narrow vantage. We do not yet know what the impact of these events will be on a historical scale, whether there will be any long-term change as a result of the Occupy movement or whether democracy has finally come to the Middle East.

Another way to honor the year in a single word would be to pick a neologism. This year a few words were coined. The New York Times described the “pinking” of America, or the spread of breast cancer awareness through the emblem the color pink. Football hero Tim Tebow unknowingly started a craze: tebowing. To tebow is to kneel on one knee with your hand on your forehead and pray, while everyone around you is doing something else. Fans saw him do this during a game and mimicked it. The results have been an internet sensation, but you won’t yet find the word in our dictionary. More recently, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry created the malapropism “forewithal” to describe how countries should respond to the global financial crisis. The word seems to be a combination of fortitude and wherewithal.

To be candid, there was a very close runner-up for the Word of the Year. When we learned that the word “insidious” originally came from the Latin word insidere which meant “to sit on, occupy,” we nearly chose this dark term. The word insidious attracted attention when the horror film Insidious came out in April of this year, and the term is constantly in the news: insidious diseases, the insidious super-committee, an insidious assault. The word encapsulates a feeling that seems to pervade 2011: “proceeding in a seemingly harmless way but actually with grave effect.” Ultimately, though, insidious is too negative to represent the mood of change and transformation that has marked this year as well.

Words of the moment and clever coinages are great fun, but tergiversate continues to resonate across a variety of experiences from the past year. Do you agree? Let us know what you think of our choice and whether we’ve overlooked other candidates.

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Philadelphia Automobile Auction Disposes of Wide Range of Vehicles.

Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News January 1, 2004 By Bob Fernandez, The Philadelphia Inquirer Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News Jan. 1–Horns honked, echoing in the cavernous former steel plant. Exhaust fumed out many tailpipes. A minivan thumped by on a flat tire, its model year and mileage written in white lettering on the windshield.

In the gathering crowd of about 150 bidders and spectators, expectation and conversation hummed. Then, with a bang of Harry Copeland’s gavel, another auction got under way on a recent Saturday at Capital Auto Auction Inc. in the Northeast.

During the next two hours, 190 vehicles were sold for between $60 and $3,000. Three days later, an additional 150 went in a Capital auction, and still more vehicles remained in the parking lot behind the company’s building.

The year-end holidays are surprisingly busy at Capital Auto, which has carved out an unusual niche in the region’s wholesale industry. The company sells thousands of vehicles, most of which are donated to the Salvation Army and other nonprofit and church groups.

These charitable donations are made heavily in the last two months of the year, when people are thinking about deducting the value of the donated vehicle from their federal income taxes, said Gabe Piorko, general manager of Capital Auto Auction.

Twenty-four hours a day, cars and SUVs are towed into the company’s lots, near the Cottman Avenue exit off I-95, from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. Most of them have seen better days and will eventually go for $200 to $1,000. They are purchased in “as is” condition, and Capital Auto takes only cash or credit cards as payment.

Capital charges the Salvation Army and other nonprofits a flat fee for selling them, including the tows to the auction lot. After the sale, proceeds are returned to the charity. Piorko would not disclose his fees, but said Capital attempted to keep fees low and volume high.

“We’re no different than the thrift store,” Piorko said. “You know, when you donate clothes to a thrift store, they sell them. We do the same thing for cars.” Capital Auto has grown in recent years as vehicle donations have become popular with charities as a fund-raising tactic.

In addition, better-quality cars and record new-vehicle sales in recent years are creating a greater need for places to sell used cars, SUVs and pickup trucks efficiently, said Michael Hayes, chief operating officer of the National Auto Auction Association, a trade group in Frederick, Md.

The number of vehicles sold at auctions by his member companies rose 30 percent from 1997 to 2002, from 7.3 million vehicles to 9.5 million, Hayes said. site capital auto auction

Among the nation’s largest auto-auction companies is Manheim Auctions, whose biggest operation is in Lancaster County. It also owns Hatfield Auto Auction in Hatfield, Montgomery County, and the National Auto Dealers Exchange in Bordentown, Burlington County.

Unlike Capital Auto, which runs public auctions and sells to anybody who shows up with money to buy a vehicle, Manheim auctions vehicles only to other auto dealers and wholesalers.

Auto-auction companies allow dealers to unload vehicles they can’t sell, and the auction process sets prices in the used-vehicle market, Hayes said. “It’s a wonderful industry,” he said.

They are part of the broader wholesale industry, which moves products in bulk and is considered important to a smooth-functioning regional economy. The wholesale industry in the Philadelphia area employs 117,500 people, according to state and federal governments. in our site capital auto auction

Employment in the region’s wholesale industry grew by 7.1 percent, or 7,700 workers, in the last decade, or about half the rate of growth of the employment base. Employment in wholesalers that stocked and delivered durable goods, such as used vehicles, grew by 13.4 percent.

Capital Auto Auction, a privately held company with affiliated operations in Washington and New Hampshire, has been part of that growth. It opened here in 1997, selling about 200 cars a week, Piorko said. The company now moves about 600 cars in three weekly auctions, employing 17 people full-time and an additional 15 to 20 part-timers on auction days. They watch the lot, and drive vehicles to the staging area.

Through the week, Capital contracts for about 20 tow trucks to bring the cars onto the lot. Sometimes they pick up a gem. Scheduled for auction in January: a 1991 Alfa Romeo, 1995 BMW, 1970 Cutlass, and a replica of a 1928 Mercedes Benz. Piorko said they had all been donated to charities.

Capital Auto also takes vehicles from auto dealers, leasing companies, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (drug-forfeiture vehicles), and individuals. About half of what it sells comes through donations to the Salvation Army, Piorko said.

A Capital auction takes place in a former steel plant. The floors are thick concrete and the ceilings high, trapping cold air in winter months.

To stay warm, young couples and families — some with children in tow — waited for a recent auction on green lawn chairs parked around portable heaters. Behind them, men in wool hats nursed steaming coffee or chicken-noodle soup in white-foam containers. They were professional mechanics, hobbyists or auto dealers looking for a deal.

Brian Walters, 22, of Philadelphia, was one of those cupping a container of soup. He said he had bought five or six cars at Capital Auto as a sidelight venture in recent years. He works full-time in a warehouse.

Among the cars Walters had purchased at auction were a ’93 Chevy Cavalier for $300 and resold for $800, and a ’72 Buick Electra with leather interior. He bought the car for $650, and resold it, after some minor work, for $8,000. “It’s a hobby,” he said, noting that many of the people there were regulars.

The bidders are allowed to view the cars several hours before the auction. They can look under the hood as the car comes through the auction line. Good cars are interspersed in the auction line with junkers. This keeps bidders on their toes. “You don’t want the guys outside drinking coffee, you want them inside looking at the cars,” Piorko said.

Copeland, the auctioneer, makes the event move fast and attempts to generate enthusiasm. “Hey, we got a tow-through here for you,” Copeland gushed at one point, making it sound as if this “no-run” vehicle was about to get snapped right up. It didn’t.

A little while later, a red Chrysler sedan came through, and Copeland couldn’t get anybody to bite. “You got sixty dollars? She’s a running car!” he said as it was driven off the auction line and out of the building.


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