They're strangely reflective of the year.
Every year, more than 2,000 words are added to English-language dictionaries. Shrinkflation, metaverse, side hustle, adorkable, sharenting, and quiet-quitting were some of the words that became so relevant this year that they had to be included. The language is evolving with the times and with the internet culture.
A trendy thing that dictionaries do is release their own Word of the Year—each with their own process, polling or editor’s choice, or both. This is a term or phrase that was used/searched consistently and has cultural relevance that’s inseparable from the year. In 2020, Collins English Dictionary chose “lockdown” and Oxford’s pick was “vax” in 2021. With 2023 in sight, Collins, Oxford, Merriam-Webster, and Cambridge are naming their winners of this year, along with others that didn’t make the cut but were still popular. Funnily, The Philadelphia Inquirer has torn apart this tradition in a scathing opinion piece: “2022’s ‘Word of the Year’ proves we should stop this inane tradition.”
Needed or not, over the years, this tradition has given the world some thoughtful words to remember any given period of time–like “climate emergency,” chosen by Oxford in 2019.
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Scroll down to see some of the most unique words of recent years, many of which represented their years a little too well.
For the first time in history, Oxford opened its Word of the Year to the public, and 300,000 people voted to pick their favorite. And the winner of the Oxford Word of the Year 2022 is the slang phrase, goblin mode.
Oxford describes it as, “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.”
So, don’t worry if you haven’t brushed your hair today or your lunch is a cheese slice. These are just the times we’re living in.
The 2018 pick for Cambridge Dictionary was nomophobia: “fear or worry at the idea of being without your mobile phone or unable to use it.” Can we take this moment to appreciate the value of this word? It is still 100% useful.
The other contenders that year were gender gap, ecocide, and no-platforming.
The 2017 pick from Oxford was Youthquake. It is described as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” The buzzword fought against white fragility, antifa, broflake, milkshake duck, and unicorn, all of which also made the shortlist.
Youthquake came into relevance due to the UK general election in June when young voters of the country made an impact on the results. It also found takers in New Zealand, where youth joined the political discourse and dominated headlines.
Oxford may have passed on it, but the Macquarie committee of 2017 didn’t. They loved the viral term so much that it became their word of the year. What does it mean, though?
According to the Australian dictionary, milkshake duck is “someone who gains widespread positive attention on social media, only to be suddenly criticized when new information is made public.”
The choice was widely applauded by folks on the internet. Meme neologism for the win!
Adulting, chatbot, woke, hygge, and Latinx were contenders for the Oxford Word of the Year in 2016, but post-truth won the debate.
Post-truth is an adjective that means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
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American publisher Merriam-Webster did something odd in 2015: it chose the suffix -ism as its word of the year. Why? Because that year, seven of the most searched words ended with it (socialism, fascism, terrorism, capitalism, feminism, racism, and communism).
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Was 2015 that missable of a year that an emoji took the crown without actually being a word? There are no words to explain this situation. Other picks from this delightful year were lumbersexual, on fleek, and dark web.
Oxford UK’s 2012 in one word: omnishambles, referring to “a situation, especially in politics, which has been very badly managed, with many mistakes and a great lack of understanding.” For the U.S., they picked GIF. Clearly, things were running differently across the pond.
When talking about it, Fiona McPherson, lexicographer on the Oxford panel that chose this word, said, “It’s funny, it’s quirky, and it has broken free of its fictional political beginnings, firstly by spilling over into real politics, and then into other contexts.”
Mummy-porn, a shortlisted word in 2012, would have been funnier, though.
Phantom Vibration Syndrome
Australian English dictionary Macquarie recognized phantom vibration syndrome as their word of 2012. It is a noun that refers to “a syndrome characterized by constant anxiety in relation to one’s mobile phone and an obsessional conviction that the phone has vibrated in response to an incoming call when in fact, it hasn’t.”
PVS is spot-on even a decade later. And so are their other selections: first world problem and crowdfunding.
You can tell how old this entry must be from the words that didn’t win: tweet, cyberbully, and head-nodding. It was 2009 when Twitter was still a baby bird learning to fly. And the Macquarie word of the year was shovel-ready.
This absurd-sounding term is “a building or infrastructure project capable of being initiated immediately, as soon as funding is assured.” Editor Susan Butler explained back then that it was chosen for its topical relevance, and that “the committee felt that this word was associated with one of the major preoccupations of 2009–how to avoid a recession.”