The Ten Best Top-Ten Lists

Top 10 lists are a staple of a culture obsessed with ranking things, yet in recent years the ubiquitous best-movie, -book and -music lists have become so baffling it seems as though their only goal is to eclipse the Top 10 lists of other critics. Still, lists can tell us much about ourselves -- our obsessions, anxieties and passions. Our Top 10 List of Lists hopes to capture the essence of 2005 by compiling the year's most superlative, truly notable, absolutely blue-ribbon cultural bric-a-brac.

1. Words

Merriam-Webster Online has created a window into our national preoccupations by releasing the Top 10 most-looked-up words of 2005, in order of their most-looked-uppedness.

      1. integrity
      2. refugee
      3. contempt
      4. filibuster
      5. insipid
      6. tsunami
      7. pandemic
      8. conclave
      9. levee
      10. inept

    Does this list prove that scores of people in the land know not the meaning of "integrity"? I don't think so. I think these people were perfectly confident they knew the meaning of integrity until certain others started throwing the word around like last Sunday's bagels, and so, head in hand, people went back to double-check, only to find that integrity was still integrity and in shorter supply than ever.

    What the list actually proves is that no one really understands popular song lyrics. Apparently most of us are just mindlessly mouthing the words without the slightest idea of what Don McLean was doing when he drove his Chevy to the levee or what on earth it means to live, as Tom Petty implores us not to, like a refugee.

    2. Birds

    Everybody's heard about the bird / b-b-b-bird bird bird / bird is the word. Since "pandemic" was the year's seventh most-looked-up word, we were curious about the creatures that sparked this lexigraphical frenzy. Topping the list of most commonly reported birds of 2005 is the northern cardinal. The state bird of no less than seven states, this is the bird you think of when you hear the word, "bird." So far, not a single cardinal has been involved in any global pandemic.

    3. Idiom

    The Top 10 Global YouthSpeak Words is so fully fundoo that I encourage you to start the new year by using as many of these brill words as you can.

      1. Crunk: A Southern variation of hip hop music; also meaning "fun" or "amped."
      2. Mang: Variation of "man," as in "S'up, mang?"
      3. A'ight: All right, as in "That girl is nice, she's a'ight."
      4. Mad: A lot, as in "She has mad money."
      5. Props: Cheers, as in "He gets mad props!"
      6. Bizznizzle: This term for "business" is part of the Snoop Dogg/Sean John-inspired lexicon, as in "None of your bizznizzle!"
      7. Fully: In Australia, an intensive, as in "fully sick."
      8. Fundoo: In India, Hindi for "cool."
      9. Brill!: In the U.K., the shortened form of "brilliant!"
      10. "S'up": Another in an apparently endless number of "whazzup?" permutations.

    4. Internet Hoaxes

    By now everyone has encountered at least one of the Top 10 Most Commonly Encountered Hoaxes and Chain Letters. In 2005 the No. 1 most common internet hoax was the pernicious Hotmail chain letter. It is incredible that anyone would fall for something as badly written as:
    "If you do not send this message to fifteen Hotmail users within 24 hours of recieving this message, your account will be PERMANETLY SHUT-DOWN. When and if you send this, we herebygrant that you will no longer recieve such messages as this one."
    5. Baby Names

    Trying to forecast the popularity of baby names is like trying to predict where the Dow Jones Industrial Average will close at year's end. The definitive list doesn't actually exist yet, because, as baby-name bigwig Laura Wattenberg writes on her blog, "Baby naming is the kind of business where you write your 'year in review' articles in May." However, this Top 10 Baby Names of 2005 list identifies the year's likely naming trends. For girls, Emma maintains a hold on the first-place slot; for boys, Aidan unseats the popular Jacob, which led the pack four years in a row.

    6. Bad Jobs

    Conservative politics positively screams from between the lines of Popular Science's 10 Worst Jobs in Science. Why is it no longer any fun to be a nuclear-weapons scientist? Because in 1999 the federal government tried Wen Ho Lee for espionage. Why does it suck to teach biology in Kansas? Because a gang of religious fundamentalists took over the state board of education, delivering a painful kick in the Bunsen burner to all Midwestern devotees of true science. Unfortunately, we can't blame everything on the right-wing; it is hard to believe that anyone ever enjoyed inspecting manure.

      1. Human lab rat
      2. Manure inspector
      3. Kansas Biology Teacher
      4. Extremophile Excavator
      5. Nuclear-Weapons Scientist
      6. Volcanologist
      7. Semen Washer
      8. Do-Gooder
      9. NASA Ballerina
      10. Orangutan Pee Collector

    7. Lists

    There are few more fascinating snapshots of the human soul than the private lists that people make. The Top 10 Grocery Lists of 2005, culled from's collection of abandoned shopping lists, are comical, but they are also slightly sad and mysterious and oddly illuminating. Many of them read like compact haikus:
    (for work--possibly
    w/ red stripper shoes)
    8. Computing

    It is symptomatic of our times that while the events described in the Top 10 List of Data Disasters are personally catastrophic, they are also unremarkable: A man accidentally deletes all his child's baby pictures. A woman drops a ceramic pot on her laptop. Yet, among the mundane losses and recoveries, a darker reality is occasionally hinted at:
    Data Disaster #2: A frustrated writer attacked her computer with a hammer. When the engineers received the computer, the hammer imprint was clearly visible on the top cover.
    9. Old Books

    Of the Top 10 Out-of-Print Books of 2005, Anirvan Chatterjee, founder of, says, "Looking at demand for out-of-print books is a great way to tell what people are interested in when they're not swayed by marketing campaigns." That is true. What is also true is that it's impossible to tell anything else. Apparently, significant numbers of people are still fumbling with the Mylar wrapping around Madonna's infamous coffee-table book, "Sex." Sizable numbers of people are also still knitting.

      1. Sex (1992), Madonna
      2. Sisters (1981), by Lynne Cheney
      3. The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel (1981), by Felicitas D. Goodman
      4. Where Troy Once Stood (1991), by Iman Wilkens
      5. The Principles of Knitting (1988), by June Hemmons Hiatt
      6. General Printing (1963), by Glen Cleeton
      7. The New Soldier (1971), edited by John Kerry
      8. The Lion's Paw (1946), by Robb White
      9. Dear and Glorious Physician (1959), by Taylor Caldwell
      10. The Book of Counted Sorrows (2003), by Dean Koontz

    10. Criminals

    No list of Top 10 lists would be complete without the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives. You'll be relieved, or maybe incensed, to learn that Osama bin Laden is still there, perched in the right-hand corner. He used to occupy the left-hand corner, and I'm not sure if his lateral migration signifies a promotion or a demotion in his most-wantedness. But actually, bin Laden is no longer the most interesting fugitive on the list; that distinction goes to a gangster named James J. Bulger.

    Bulger is no common thug, but a bookworm "known to frequent libraries and historical sites." While Bulger tours Gettysburg and Pompei, his female companion, Catherine Elizabeth Greig, "frequents hair salons." The pair "love animals and may frequent animal shelters." They take walks on beaches and in parks. They travel extensively. Reading the FBI's description of these lovers on the lam, it is easy to forget that Bulger and Greig are fugitives from justice and not members of Elderhostel.

    Bonus Item! Dictators

    At press time, it was too soon to include Parade magazine's annual list of the World's Ten Worst Dictators, which comes out after the new year. For a preview, check out last year's list, since dictators are by nature long-lived and there are sure to be repeats.

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