All These Cool Finalists – and They Pick This as the Word of the Year?

Every year since 2004, Oxford Dictionary has announced its choice for Word of the Year.

According to Wikipedia, the Word of the Year need not have been coined within the past twelve months but it does need to have become prominent or notable during that time. There is no guarantee that the Word of the Year will be included in any Oxford dictionary. The Oxford Dictionaries Words of the Year are selected by editorial staff from each of the Oxford dictionaries. The selection team is made up of lexicographers and consultants to the dictionary team, and editorial, marketing, and publicity staff.

Oxford Dictionaries notes that the Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.

This year, the team chose the following nine words for its shortlist of candidates for Word of the Year (in alphabetical order):

  • Big Dick Energy (BDE) – An attitude of understated and casual confidence
  • Cakeism – Primarily a word used in the UK, cakeism is the belief that it is possible to enjoy or take advantage of both of two desirable but mutually exclusive alternatives at once.
  • Gammon – Typically used in the UK as a derogatory term for an older middle-class white man whose face becomes flushed due to anger when expressing political (typically right-wing) opinions.
  • Gaslighting – The action of manipulating someone by psychological means into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity.
  • Incel – An incel (short for ‘involuntary celibate’) is a member of an online community of young men who consider themselves unable to attract women sexually.  Typically, they hold views that are hostile towards men and women who are sexually active.
  • Orbiting – Orbiting is the action of abruptly withdrawing from direct communication with someone while still monitoring, and sometimes responding to, their activity on social media.
  • Overtourism – An excessive number of tourist visits to a popular destination or attraction, resulting in damage to the local environment and historical sites and in poorer quality of life for residents.
  • Techlash – A strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley. (a story in today’s Wall Street Journal about this word is what prompted this post.)
  • Toxic – Has both a literal meaning (such as poisonous chemicals) and a more metaphorical one (such as a toxic relationship).

And the winner is…

The most boring word on the list – toxic.

According to Oxford, in 2018, toxic added many strings to its poisoned bow becoming an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics. It is the sheer scope of its application, as found by our research, that made toxic the stand-out choice for the Word of the Year title.

Its data shows that, along with a 45% rise in the number of times it has been looked up on, over the last year the word toxic has been used in an array of contexts, both in its literal and more metaphorical senses.

Of all nine words on the list, that is the only one I was familiar with. I had never heard of any of the others (well maybe gaslighting, a little). However, toxic’s second most popular use as an adjective, after toxic chemicals, was toxic masculinity.

I had not heard of that particular phrase, and here is how Oxford Dictionaries describes the phrase:

With the #MeToo movement putting a cross-industry spotlight on toxic masculinity, and watershed political events like the Brett Kavanaugh Senate judiciary committee hearing sparking international debate, the term toxic masculinity has well and truly taken root in the public consciousness and got people talking in 2018.

In fact, Katherine Connor Martin, the company’s head of U.S. dictionaries, said that the committee initially considered choosing “toxic masculinity,” as its Word of the Year until it realized how widespread “toxic” itself had become.

When looking at the list one might argue that many of the terms are male related, and not always flattering: BDE, gammon, incel, and toxic masculinity. So it appears that 2018 was not a good year for men.

If you’re curious what the previous words of the year were, here is the complete list:

  • 2017 – youthquake: A significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.
  • 2016 – post-truth: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
  • 2015 –  😂 (Face With Tears of Joy, Unicode: U+1F602, part of emoji)
  • 2014 – vape: Inhale and exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.
  • 2013 – selfie: A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.
  • 2012 – omnishambles: A situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.
  • 2011 – squeezed middle: The social group consisting of people whose income is too low to support them comfortably but not low enough to exempt them from higher tax rates or qualify for government assistance.
  • 2010 – big society: A concept whereby a significant amount of responsibility for the running of a society is devolved to local communities and volunteers.
  • 2009 – simples: Used to convey that something is very straightforward.
  • 2008 – credit crunch: A sudden sharp reduction in the availability of money or credit from banks and other lenders
  • 2007 – carbon footprint: The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organization, or community.
  • 2006 – bovvered: Hooliganism or violent disorder, especially as caused by gangs of skinheads.
  • 2005 – sudoku: A puzzle in which players insert the numbers one to nine into a grid consisting of nine squares subdivided into a further nine smaller squares in such a way that every number appears once in each horizontal line, vertical line, and square.
  • 2004 – chav: A young person of a type characterized by brash and loutish behaviour (usually with connotations of a low social status).

I should point out that these are the UK Words of the Year. Oxford Dictionaries also chooses a U.S. Word of the Year; many times the two words are the same, but not always. Here are the U.S. Words of the Year, for those years in which it was different than the UK Word of the Year:

  • 2012 – GIFA lossless format for image files that supports both animated and static images. (graphic interchange format)
  • 2010  – refudiate: used loosely to mean “reject”
  • 2009 – unfriend: Remove (someone) from a list of friends or contacts on a social networking website.
  • 2008 – hypermiling: The practice of making adjustments to a vehicle or using driving techniques that will maximize the vehicle’s fuel economy.
  • 2007 – locavore: A person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food.
  • 2006 – carbon-neutral: Making or resulting in no net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, especially as a result of carbon offsetting.
  • 2005 – podcast: A digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.

If you are still reading – that’s pretty impressive. You must have a lot of BDE.


2 thoughts on “All These Cool Finalists – and They Pick This as the Word of the Year?

  1. Oh, these are “joke” words. Most of these are slangs… I was hoping for a genuinely good word to add to my vocabulary 😦


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