Sign of the times

Who would have thought: the Swiss word of the year isn't a word at all! Yet most people know by now what the symbol # stands for. Especially since the Twitter messaging service has been using it, the whole world is busy tweeting the latest news using hashtags preceded by the hash symbol. Reason enough for a jury of high-profile Swiss authors and linguists to make the cross-hatched hash its word of the year.

Not quite so worthy of honour, on the other hand, is the jury's least-favourite term of the year: density stress. In the natural world, density stress or "intraspecies competition" is what happens when members of the same species compete for limited resources: in extreme cases, the results can be fatal. The expression was re-purposed by the Swiss media and used in the debates surrounding the recent so-called mass migration and ecopop referendums. The expression has also been heard in connection with bees – these busy creatures are so popular in Switzerland these days that it's quite normal to see hives even in urban settings. People should retain a sense of proportion, though. After all, who wants swarms of stressed, foraging bees making a beeline for their coupe romanoff?