Look it up

Dictionaries lament 2016 through Words of the Year


I wish I could take it back.

Enter the common plea for the misspoken word, but what about the words we cannot take back, the ones that have becomes so culturally ingrained they caption 2016?

Dictionaries have long chosen “Words of the Year,” and though many may bemoan the dictionary’s irrelevance, these words function as cultural heart monitors, keeping track of our pulse through the words we speak as well as our measured interests.

What sends us to the dictionary is none other than the most pressing issues of the day, and though the internet has lamented the issues of 2016 – one Twitter user hypothesized Quentin Tarantino is directing this year – nothing plagues the logophile so much as these words of the year.

1) Oxford dictionary: Post-truth

The Oxford dictionary studies new words and usages before debating among its team which word best represents the year. It defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Frequent usage includes “post-truth politics.”

2) Dictionary.com: Xenophobia

Dictionary.com chooses a word that reflects a cultural theme. The site said it identifies “trends in its look-up data,” and on June 24, “xenophobia” had an increase in look-ups of 938 percent. It defines “xenophobia” as “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers.”

3) Merriam Webster: Fascism

Merriam Webster chooses its word with the highest number of look-ups. Though users still have time to look up new words, as of December 2, its winner is “fascism,” which it defines as “a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which the people are not allowed to disagree with the government” or “very harsh control or authority.”

Ouch. So if we were to in fact caption 2016, we may say “Post-truth politics appealed to xenophobia to support fascism,” but that sentence is so horrendous, I refuse to entertain it. We have become so divided that even the most basic units of ourselves – the words we speak – reflect it. Compare this to 2015, when the Oxford dictionary championed the tears of joy emoji as its word of the year, or 2013, when it picked “selfie.”

I can applaud a society that does not take itself so seriously, that knows how to laugh at itself, even if that laugh is twinged with selfie-ish-ness. At this point, I would be grateful even for an Urban Dictionary Word of the Year, for this nationwide depression that has settled on top of us needs to be lifted.

Perhaps together we can propose a new word for 2016 – “blatherskite,” foolish talk or nonsense – and dismiss this year as simply that. While it is never that easy, perhaps enough hope exists in us that 2017, at least, need not be the year of the post-truth-politics-practicing, xenophobic fascist.

Let us forgive ourselves for 2016, and above all, let us move on.


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