Languagehat’s news flash on w00t (chosen as the Merriam-Webster’s Word of ’07) piqued my interest. A quote:
There’s a lot of “l33t speak” I don’t care for, but I’ve always liked w00t; there’s something primally yawpish about it, and I’m glad to see it get this recognition.
Now, I have no idea what ‘yawpish’ is, but I guess I can more readily relate to w00t than to yawpish precisely because there is ‘something primally yawpish’ about w00t. What is that?
I think it has something to do with the iconic quality of the double 00 1 (which to me conveys something like wide open eyes and raised eyebrows) coupled with the vowel length and vowel quality. It seems the long rounded tense back vowel [u:] renders the word more apt for its purpose than, say, an unrounded lax vowel like [a:] would have done. This may have something to do with the peculiar configuration of the facial muscles required by the former. Try it for yourself — isn’t it true that [wu:t] just feels better —for this particular meaning— than [wa:t]?
Being sympathetic to Sapir’s ideation reigns supreme in language, I would be the last to look voor such things in every English word. But in this case, I think it is quite probable that at least part of the appeal of w00t lies in this non-arbitrary relationship between form and meaning. The word seems to evoke the experience it is meant to encode (happiness, victory, in-your-face) both visually and through its sound. In that respect, it’s an interesting piece of expressive vocabulary.
(The original article from the New York Times as linked to by Languagehat is here. It quotes Merriam-Webster’s president, John Morse, as saying that ”w00t” was an ideal choice because it blends whimsy and new technology.)
- Note that the typeface this site is set in, Georgia, makes the difference between woot and w00t a bit difficult to see because 0 (zero) barely exceeds the x-height which o (lowercase “oh”) has. Here’s the difference in a monospace font: woot / w00t. The point is that w00t mixes letters and numbers, as any good l33t-speak does.