At the end of each year the main dictionary compilers announce their Word of the Year (WotY). The Oxford, Collins, Chambers, Merriam-Webster dictionaries as well as Dictionary.com and the American Dialect Society all offer a word.
Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year
The first to declare this year was the Oxford Dictionary and in light of the US election settled on 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’.
Post-truth: a situation where belief can rival facts in forming public opinion.
It is not a new word, but has taken on a much bigger role as fake news rivals verified news. Social media in particular features post-truth news often and with greater chances of being shared.
Personality, emotion and personal fears also play a bigger role in how people look at issues. Opinions can rival facts as people are able to find their own "facts" to support their views.
The other words on the Oxford list are:
- glass cliff
The Oxford Dictionary word for 2015 was an emoji, the one with tears of joy.
Dictionary.com Word of the Year
Xenophobia is well known to South Africans. The largest spike in searches for the word in the last year occurred during the xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2015.
It was chosen following spikes again this year centered around the US elections and the refugee situation in Europe.
It is difficult to say exactly why there is a rise in xenophobic sentiments. It is likely a combination of factors, a flat economy, the devastating Syrian civil conflict, the terror threat by groups aligned to ISIS and narratives in the media and by political figures about how certain groups are having a negative affect on their communities and threatening their way of life.
When times are good, it is easy to be charitable, during uncertainty we tend to look inward and become protective. As reasonable as that may seem, it may have the opposite effect.
Dictionary.com lists another reason for choosing xenophobia that relates to technology. They refer to the unease that humans tend to have when dealing with things that are not human but appear that way. The closer the apparent behaviour the greater the unease.
In all cases the site suggests that the greatest way to address fears of otherness and create empathy is through proximity and contact, not separation.
The word of the year for 2015 was Identity
Merriam-Webster - Surreal
A terror attack, a coup and the US election were the triggers for search spikes for the word surreal that saw Merriam-Webster select it as their Word of the Year 2016.
The terror attack in Nice of a truck driver ploughing into a crowd of pedestrians enjoying a Bastille Day fireworks show certainly seems like something you would only see in a movie not real life, yet it was real.
A coup in Turkey is not unheard of, but after many years, the apparently poorly organised coup did not seem real either.
For some, Donald Trump winning the US Presidential election also appears to be unreal and for the increase in the use of the word and the resulting spike in searches on their site is what led to it being selected.
Surreal - marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.— Merriam-Webster definition of their Word of the Year 2016
Collins Dictionary Word of the year - Brexit
Collins chose Brexit as their choice for 2016 over Hygge, the Danish term most similar to cozy and 'Mic drop" - no shortage of literal and figurative version of it in 2016. Some of the terms might not be that well known though like sharenting - the sharing of your parenting efforts on social media and JOMO - the joy of missing out out, the opposite of the more well known FOMO which is the fear of missing out.
Brexit - The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union— Collins Dictionary Word of the Year 2016
American Dialect Society Word of the Year - Dumpster fire
Decided in early January the American Dialect Society is the last to announce their choice for the year. They continue the theme that suggests 2016 was marked by a chaotic and unpredictable year.
Dumpster fire - an exceedingly disastrous or chaotic situation— American Dialect Society
The word has most be connected with the US Presidential elections which the Society says many referred to as a train wreck or as out of control as a dumpster fire.
Images and footage of an actual rubbish tip on fire became a meme.
Live look-in at the Republican Party. pic.twitter.com/QZ4UFhEgPU— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) October 10, 2016
Other terms that were considered were:
- woke - socially aware or enlightened
- normalize - treat as if normal that which was previously deemed beyond acceptable bounds