‘Linsanity’ Contender for Word of the Year, American Dialect Society Says

The sports world’s newest craze has Lin-guists impressed.

“Linsanity,” the word that has encapsulated New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin’s rise from bench-warmer to international sensation in less than two weeks, has thrust itself into the American English vocabulary and been translated into Mandarin, making it a strong early candidate for 2012’s Word of the Year, according to the American Dialect Society.

“It certainly has had a meteoric rise in less than two weeks,” said Ben Zimmer, chairman of the society’s New Words Committee.

Each January, the 122-year-old society votes on the top word or phrase that has become prominent or notable in the past year. “Occupy,” referring to the protest movement, was last year’s winner.

Linsanity has been accompanied by puns such as “lincredible,” “linvincible,” “linning” and “Linderella.”

Zimmer said linsanity became popular in newspaper headlines and social media as soon as the 23-year-old Lin, a Harvard University graduate who was cut by two other teams, brought Madison Square Garden fans to their feet with a 25-point, seven- assist performance in a Feb. 4 win against the New Jersey Nets. His play earned him a start for the team’s next game and the Knicks haven’t lost since, with a winning streak now of seven games heading into tonight’s home contest against the New Orleans Hornets.

With Lin scoring a career-high 38 points in outdueling National Basketball Association scoring leader Kobe Bryant; hitting a game-winning 3-point shot against the Toronto Raptors, and averaging 24.4 points and 9.1 assists per game during the streak, ticket prices and television ratings have skyrocketed, as well as interest in the player and the puns.

‘So Simple’

“It’s helpful that his name, Lin, is so simple,” Zimmer, executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “It lends itself well to this type of word play.”

The last time Zimmer recalls a name drawing a similar number of puns was in 2008, when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s name led to phrases such as “Obamomentum” and “Obamination,” he said.

The ascension of Lin, the first Taiwanese- or Chinese- American to play in the NBA, has left people in China trying to figure out how best to translate the word into Mandarin, according to Victor Mair, a professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

‘Native Feel’

Early attempts turned the expression into a Mandarin word that translated back to English as “Lin-insane,” which “sounded as though it had been invented by someone who doesn’t have a native feel for Chinese word formation,” Mair said in a blog post on the Philadelphia school’s Language Log.

A better Chinese translation of Linsanity, pronounced as Linlaifeng, surfaced more recently in China, Mair said. It’s taken from the Chinese expression “renlaifeng,” which means get hyped up in front of an audience, he said.

Another sports-related word that took off in 2011 was “Tebowing,” the knee-in-prayer pose that Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow struck after victories. It joined a group of photo-fads that had short-lived popularity, Zimmer said. The Broncos were eliminated in the second round of the National Football League playoffs and Tebow was criticized by former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner for the way he used his on-field fame to promote his Christian values.

‘Tebowing’ Panned

At the dialect society’s convention, Tebowing received several votes in the “Least Likely to Succeed” category, though it came in second to “brony,” an adult male fan of the “My Little Pony” cartoon franchise. The prospects are better for Linsanity, especially if Lin and the Knicks (15-15) continue to excel, Zimmer said.

“It’s possible that because Jeremy Lin is not as polarizing as Tim Tebow that will help, along with people wanting to join in Linsanity more broadly,” Zimmer said. “He’s someone that seems like everyone can embrace.”

The list of people finding Linsanity irresistible includes Zimmer, a Jersey City, New Jersey, resident and Nets fan who said he’s recently discussed with his 5-year-old son who to root for when the Nets move to Brooklyn next season.

“Everybody seems to be getting onboard,” Zimmer said of Linsanity. “It’s hard to not catch that infectious excitement about it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.

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