Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year: Hypermiling

moving car

For the third year in a row, The New Oxford American Dictionary has selected an eco-themed word as its word of the year. “Hypermiling” or “to hypermile” as Oxford defines it, is “an attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques. Rather than aiming for good mileage or even great mileage, hypermilers seek to push their gas tanks to the limit and achieve hypermileage, exceeding EPA ratings for miles per gallon.”

The term, which Oxford says was coined by Wayne Gerdes of CleanMPG back in 2004, has received newfound attention in the last year thanks to sharp increases in gasoline prices and a political squabble about national energy policy and the benefits of properly inflated tires.

As readers of this blog certainly know, the tactics and strategies of hypermiling span the spectrum from the simple and innocuous to the complex and dangerous. Some of the simpler adjustments include keeping tires properly inflated, reducing the amount of weight in the car by removing any non-essential weight, turning off the A/C when possible and keeping the windows rolled up at higher speeds, avoiding sudden braking, Some of the more advanced tactics of hypermiling include overinflating tires, coasting in neutral or shutting off the engine while coasting, rolling through stop signs, and following closely behind vehicles (especially large trucks) to reduce wind resistance and increase fuel efficiency.

The strategies advocated by hypermilers were at the center of the debate between conservation and drilling as possible solutions to Americans’ dependence on foreign oil.  When President-elect Barack Obama observed during his campaign that Americans could save as much oil as would be produced by a proposed increase in offshore drilling if only they kept their tires inflated to recommended levels and took their cars in for regular tune-ups, Republicans mocked the claim, handing out tire gauges to the McCain traveling press corps which read: “Obama’s Energy Plan.”

In what might be considered a sign of the greening of popular culture, this is the third year in a row Oxford has selected an eco-themed word for its annual accolade. Last year’s pick was “locavore” – a term for a person who tries to conserve fuel by eating only foods grown locally. In 2006, the word of the year was “carbon neutral.”

Other words being considered included:

frugalista – person who leads a frugal lifestyle, but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying second-hand, growing own produce, etc.

rewilding – the process of returning an area to its original wild state/flora/fauna etc

staycation – vacation taken at or near one’s home, taking day trips, etc.

tweet – a short message sent via the Twitter service, using a cellphone or other mobile device.

carrot mob – a flashmob type of gathering, in which people are invited via the Net to all support and reward a local small ethical business such as a shop or café by all patronizing it at the same time. Also as noun, carrotmobbing.

ecohacking (also known as geoengineering) – the use of science in very large-scale projects to change the environment for the better/stop global warming (e.g. by using mirrors in space to deflect sunlight away from Earth).

Image: psmithy via flickr under a Creative Commons License

Timothy B. Hurst

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.