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Dictionary Picks 'Unfriend' As Word Of The Year

The New Oxford American Dictionary's 2009 Word of the Year can trace its origins back to the 17th century. The word: "unfriend."

Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer at Oxford University Press, says the Oxford English Dictionary provides a citation for "unfriend" from 1659.

Lindberg says the essence of the meaning has not changed much since the word was first cited.

"I think it's a remarkable resurrection," she tells NPR's Melissa Block. "In a way, I look at 'unfriend' as the Sleeping Beauty of 2009 words."

For the uninitiated, to "unfriend" is the act of removing someone who was previously your "friend" on a social media network, especially Facebook.

"Unfriend" beat out "sexting" (sending sexually explicit text/pictures over the cell phone), birther (a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama's U.S. birth certificate) and tramp stamp (tattoo on lower back, usually on a woman).

Past words of the year include 2008's hypermiling (driving to maximize fuel economy), 2007's locavore (one who tries to eat locally grown food), carbon neutral (2006) and podcast (2005).

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