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Must read: Winner in Word of the Year poll something for gamers to 'w00t' about

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Expect cheers among hardcore online game enthusiasts when they learn Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year. Or, more accurately, expect them to 'w00t.'

'W00t,' a hybrid of letters and numbers used by gamers as an exclamation of happiness or triumph, topped all other terms in the Springfield-based dictionary publisher's online poll for the word that best sums up 2007.

Merriam-Webster's president, John Morse, said 'w00t' was an ideal choice because it blends whimsy and new technology.

'It shows a really interesting thing that's going on in language. It's a term that's arrived only because we're now communicating electronically with each other,' Morse said.

Gamers commonly substitute numbers and symbols for the letters they resemble, Morse says, creating what they call 'l33t speak' - that's 'leet' when spoken, short for 'elite' to the rest of the world.

For technophobes, the word also is familiar from the 1990 movie 'Pretty Woman,' in which Julia Roberts startles her date's upper-crust friends with a hearty 'Woot, woot, woot!' at a polo match.

Purists of 'l33t speak' often substitute a '7' for the final 't,' expressing a 'w007' of victory - an 'in your face' of sorts - when they defeat an online gaming opponent.

'W00t' was among 20 nominees in a list of the most-searched words in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary and most frequently submitted terms from users of its 'open dictionary.'

The choice did not make Allan Metcalf, executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, say 'w00t.'

'It's amusing, but it's limited to a small community and unlikely to spread and unlikely to last,' said Metcalf, an English professor at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.

The 2006 pick, 'truthiness,' also has its roots in pop culture. It was popularized by Comedy Central satirical political commentator Stephen Colbert.

Some also-rans in the 2007 list: the use of 'facebook' as a verb to signify using the Web site by that name; nuanced terms such as 'quixotic,' 'hypocrite' and 'conundrum'; and 'blamestorm,' a meeting in which mistakes are aired, fingers are pointed and much discomfort is had by all.