News of the Week: Words of the Year, Why We Say ‘Um,’ and (Literally) Half-Off Christmas Trees

The week ending December 15, 2017, saw a new word of the year, a new angle on Christmas trees, a new Christmas carol, and an old verbal tic. Plus Dick Van Dyke, Frank Sinatra, and more!

Christmas pine needles on a wooden floor

Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!


And the Word of the Year Is…

Cursive writing on old paper

This week Merriam-Webster announced their “Word of the Year,” and it’s pickles. I know, I’m stunned too!

Okay, the word is actually feminism. I don’t have to explain why that is the biggest word of 2017, but you can read more about it at Merriam-Webster’s site. And it’s not the only important word chosen by the venerable language company. Other words of the year include complicitrecuseempathydotard, and … gyro? I don’t remember that being a big word this year; apparently Jimmy Fallon did a gyro-based comedy sketch with country singer Luke Bryan and suddenly everyone was talking about gyros, I guess.

Part of the reason the words were chosen is because they’re the words people searched for the most during the year after hearing them in the news, online, and in pop culture.

I still think pickles will be big in 2018. You can put them in a gyro.

As Judge Judy Says, Um Is Not an Answer

We have, um, a lot of verbal tics that we often say. They’re, um, a way of thinking of what we want to say, sort of a verbal, um, placeholder. A lot of people think that it’s, um, better than stopping for a second and saying, um, nothing.

Isn’t it annoying when the ums we say are written out like that? Of course! I often wonder why people don’t fight harder to stop using the word (if we can even call it a word). I’ve done it myself in the past, though it’s really a bad habit we should try to break. But why do people do it? This article at The Atlantic attempts to explain it. Writer Julie Beck talks to N.J. Enfield, a professor and author of the book How We Talk. He actually sees some use in um. He calls it a “hesitation marker,” and it can be useful in conversation.

I guess it could be worse. I was once in a coffee shop and overheard a job interview at the next table. The interviewee must have said “like” 100 times in the span of five minutes.

To the Moon (and Mars), Alice!

First off, I hope you got that reference.

Second, as someone who has been a space geek since he was a kid, I think this is exciting news. President Trump signed a directive this week that will “refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery.” With former astronaut Harrison Schmitt at his side, the president announced new projects to send humans back to the moon and eventually to Mars. It’s called “Space Policy Directive – 1,” which isn’t the most romantic name, but it does have a certain Star Trek feel about it.

Facebook Is Bad, Say People Who Helped Create Facebook

People under large hands giving thumbs down

A billion people use Facebook, but a lot of them are getting tired of it. Some have cut down on the number of times they post or even check it, and some have deleted their accounts altogether. It’s probably always going to be popular, but you’re starting to hear more and more people fighting against its influence and pull.

But you rarely hear those things from people who actually had a hand in it becoming the online force that it is. The past couple of weeks, we’ve heard from two different former Facebook honchos who say that maybe Facebook (and social media in general) isn’t worth it. Former Facebook President Sean Parker says, “I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because of the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or two billion people and it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Former Vice President of User Growth Chamath Palihapitiya was even more blunt, saying, “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” He says he feels “tremendous guilt” about what he has done. Facebook has actually responded to the criticism.

Maybe you should deactivate your Facebook account and see how it goes? Make it a New Year’s resolution. Who knows, you might even like not being connected to everyone and everything all the time.

But wait a couple of weeks before you do it, because I want you to head over to our Facebook page and share this column with your friends.

O Christmas Half-Tree, O Christmas Half-Tree

Christmas pine needles on a wooden floor

Last week I brought up the “real vs. artificial Christmas tree” debate, and from what I heard from readers, a lot of people like real and a lot of people like artificial, with maybe a slight edge to the real tree crowd. The other day, a supermarket cashier went on and on to me about the virtues of a real tree. I didn’t feel like getting into a discussion with her about why I like artificial trees (plus my ice cream was melting).

But what if real or fake isn’t the problem you face? Maybe it’s space. That’s where this Christmas half-tree comes in. It’s a tree that’s sliced down the middle, so it lies flush with the wall. It’s artificial, and stores in Britain are selling it for around $130.

If you really have no room, you can put your Christmas tree directly on the wall.

The Best and the Worst

Best: A new holiday tune from Dick Van Dyke and Jane Lynch, “We’re Going Caroling.” Van Dyke turned 92 on Wednesday, and he’s twice as active as I am.

Worst: This Slate article that dumps on Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. Now, feel free to critique the movies for how they’re made or the plots or the dialogue or the fact that it seems like 400 new ones are pumped out every year (I find them oddly comforting), but the author of the piece makes the whole discussion political and sour, as if we need any more of that.

This Week in History

Frank Sinatra Born (December 12, 1915)

Ol’ Blue Eyes would have turned 102 this week. There’s a new Sinatra holiday album titled Ultimate Christmas, and it includes this song, written in 1954 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. According to Sinatra’s daughter Nancy, Frank wanted a new Christmas song that would be his, and Cahn and Styne came up with “The Christmas Waltz.” It was the B-side to “White Christmas.”

Bill of Rights Ratified (December 15, 1791)

The first ten amendments to the Constitution were created in 1789 and ratified two years later. President Roosevelt declared December 15 Bill of Rights Day in 1941.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Christmas Train Set (December 15, 1956)

Christmas Train Set
December 15, 1956
George Hughes

Do kids still get train sets for Christmas, or is there now an app for that? I don’t know, but my favorite thing about this cover by George Hughes is the guy on the left. He seems to be looking directly at the artist and thinking, “Yeah, draw me, whatever.”

Today Is National Cupcake Day


Remember three or four years ago when cupcakes were the hottest thing? Cupcake shops popped up everywhere, and it seemed like every food show on television revolved around cupcakes. Then they just faded away, replaced by kale and fidget spinners and HQ Trivia.

Good Housekeeping has 28 Christmas-oriented cupcakes you can make for National Cupcake Day, including ones that look like snowballs, reindeer, Christmas trees, Santa hats, and even Ebenezer Scrooge. If you’re feeling like the actual Ebenezer Scrooge and don’t want cupcakes that remind you of Christmas, try these Oreo Cupcakes.

Hey, you know what you should do on Christmas morning? Fill your kids’ stockings with kale. The joy on their faces will be priceless, and you can post the pictures to Facebook.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Winter Begins (December 21)

The Winter Solstice for the Northern Hemisphere begins at 11:28 a.m. EST. There’s also something called a “Meteorological Winter” and that began December 1, but that’s just confusing, so forget I even mentioned it.

Crossword Puzzle Day (December 21)

This marks the day in 1913 that the first official crossword puzzle was published. You can try to solve it at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament site. I couldn’t finish it.

Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now


  1. I like that song too Jade and for the same reasons. Lynch has a Christmas album called “A Swingin’ Christmas” (with Tim Davis and Kate Flannery, Meredith from “The Office” also singing) with a bunch of classics done in a swing/big band/jazzy style.

  2. Gee Bob, I’m not sure either why feminism is the biggest word of the year either. Could it be since the Harvey Weinstein debacle set off all the falling dominoes, with Dustin Hoffman being the latest one?

    Judge Judy is right about all the ‘ums’ of course, and she needs to throw the book at all those using ‘like’. No thank you to Facebook also. I have a Twitter account I use here and there mainly with Tatum O’Neal, Jane Fonda, Steven Slon and Jamie Leigh Curtis.

    Thanks for the links on current Dick Van Dyke and vintage Frank Sinatra for his 102nd birthday. Rest in peace Pat DiNizio, best known for being the founder and lead singer and songwriter of ‘The Smithereens’ a personal favorite group of mine. Glad I got to see them in 2013.

    The ’56 Christmas cover really is great. You’re right about the guy on the left. He seems out of place here. Love that picture of the cupcakes too. Unfortunately, my girlfriend’s Mom extinguished her cigarette (in a holder) in the frosting of one on the foyer table, when asked to either go out or get out of (her other daughter’s) house. Helen chose that unexpected, nasty alternative and was allowed to stay and embarrass me during last year’s Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t let it happen again last month, and will not later this month for Christmas.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *