And the 2009 Word of the Year is...

Barack Obama used the term in a speech today. So I now believe it's true: "transform" is an early front-runner for 2009 Word of the Year.

Sure Merriam-Webster just named "bailout" the 2008 WOTY.

And "shovel-ready" might seem the early favorite for most likely to succeed in 2009.

But America now stands in the afterglow of a remarkable presidential election in which perhaps the most diverse parade of citizens in the history of the nation united to vote for "change."

And now the word "transform," a close but more sophisticated linguistic cousin, is frequently popping up in editorials, political speeches and other dimensions of the public dialogue.

That observation is increasingly obvious across the greater Great Lakes, a region that's struggled to "transform" its Rust Belt reputation and purpose for decades.

Michigan Lt. Gov John Cherry earlier this week called for $3 billion in federal funds to restore the Great Lakes saying the investment would "transform" Michigan's economy and "lay the foundation for a blue water economy."

Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer recently editorialized that Obama's proposed stimulus funding "should be spent on transformative projects," like converting gas stations to hydrogen hubs.

Republicans are using it too. Governor Tim Pawlenty, for example, touted the Teacher Transformation Act in his 2009 State of the State as a strategy "to make Minnesota the nation's leader in teacher preparation and training."

What's more, the word (and all the frames and ideas it triggers) is already firmly in the presidential playbook.

After touring a plant in metro Cleveland that manufactures bolts for everything from the Statue of Liberty to wind turbines, Barack Obama praised the company for creating jobs that "transform" our economy.

He also pledged that his American Recover and Reinvestment Act would strive to do the same. In fact, that encouraging family of "Re" words - recover, reinvest, restore, renew, rebuild, revitalize - are a good bet to compete for Word of the Year honors.

Alas "transform" might prove too familiar to rev up the linguistic search engines that track the candidates at Merriam-Webster unlike past WOTY winners like "bailout," "facebook" or "google." But it's a word I suspect we're going to hear more and more of. Unless something big changes....errr transforms.