2022 Words of the Year

With the end of yet another year, most dictionaries announce their word of the year. This word sums up how the English language morphed in the preceding 12 months, to recognize a trend in mainstream vernacular and comment on the human condition at that moment in time. So what did the various lexicographers choose as their word for 2022, one that reflects the world around us in that period?

The Oxford Dictionary which was chosen by the public for the first time is “goblin mode”.
According to Oxford University Press (OUP), publishers behind the Oxford English Dictionary, the slang term refers to a type of behaviour that is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations – traits that may have become familiar to many during the lockdowns. Social media can portray idealised versions of self-improvement, from waking at 5 a.m. and drinking a green smoothie, to keeping a journal, exercising and planning your weekly meal prep. That era may be on the way out. In its place is goblin mode – the opposite of trying to better yourself.

A group of lexicographers at OUP gave people a choice of: “Goblin mode,” “metaverse,” and “#IStandWith.” “Goblin mode” triumphed, racking up 318,956 votes or 93% of the total. “Metaverse” came in second and “#IStandWith” came third. ‘Goblin mode’ was the most popular word because it resonates with all of us who are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point. It’s a relief to acknowledge that we’re not always the idealised, curated selves that we’re encouraged to present on our Instagram and TikTok feeds. Although first seen on Twitter in 2009, goblin mode went viral on social media in February 2022, quickly making its way into newspapers and magazines after being tweeted in a mocked-up headline. The term then rose in popularity over the months following as Covid lockdown restrictions eased in many countries and people ventured out of their homes more regularly. Seemingly, it captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to ‘normal life’, or rebelled against the increasingly unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media.

Over at Merriam-Webster, gaslighting is their word for 2022. In this age of misinformation, of fake news, conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes, gaslighting or the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s advantage was looked up 1740% more in 2022 with high interest throughout the year. The word comes from the title of a 1938 play and the movie based on that play, the plot of which involves a man attempting to make his wife believe that she is going insane. His mysterious activities in the attic cause the house’s gas lights to dim, but he insists to his wife that the lights are not dimming and that she can’t trust her perceptions.

‘Permacrisis’, a term that describes ‘an extended period of instability and insecurity, has been named Collins Word of the Year 2022. It is one of several words Collins highlights that relate to ongoing crises the UK and the world have faced and continue to face, including political instability, the war in Ukraine, climate change, and the cost-of-living crisis. Six words on Collins’ list of ten words of the year are new to CollinsDictionary.com, including ‘permacrisis’.

At the Cambridge Dictionary, homer, or the informal American English term for a home run in baseball was the word chosen to represent 2022. The word saw more than 65,000 searches for homer on May 5, when it was the answer to that day’s Wordle with 95% of searches outside North America.

I had not heard of Oxford’s word of the year, but I am loving it and I am going to use it as much as I can this year. What is your favourite word of 2022?

2021 Words of the Year

The various dictionaries have announced their words of 2021 and to no one’s surprise, they are both related to the pandemic.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year is based on usage evidence drawn from Oxford’s continually updated corpus of more than 14.5 billion words, gathered from news sources across the English-speaking world. The selection is meant to reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupations of the preceding year, while also having the potential as a term of lasting cultural significance. It has traditionally been a scholarly yet often a light-hearted effort, highlighting both cultural change and English’s sometimes goofy way of reflecting it. But last year, the company forwent a single choice and instead highlighted the pandemic’s sudden and pervasive influence on the language more broadly.

The Oxford Language’s 2021 Word of the Year is “Vax”. After analysing 14.5 billion words used in daily news coverage in 2021, they found the word Vax was used 72 times as much as it was in 2020. A relatively rare word until this year, by September it was over 72 times more frequent than at the same time last year and has generated numerous derivatives that we are now seeing in a wide range of informal contexts, from vax sites and vax cards to getting vaxxed and being fully vaxxed, no word better captures the atmosphere of the past year than vax. The word Vax highlights the medical breakthroughs and the rise of COVID vaccines across the world.

The word vaccine was first recorded in English in 1799, following the British scientist Edward Jenner’s experiments with inoculation against smallpox. In early reports on his experiments, the word vaccine, derived from the Latin Vacca, or cow, was used to refer to the disease and the material from the cowpox pustules he injected into his human research subjects. It was only decades later, according to Oxford’s report on its research, that vaccine came to be used for inoculation against other diseases. Curiously, while the shortened form vax did not appear until the 1980s, the term anti-vax — spelt anti-vacks — appeared early.

Runners-up on this year’s list were “vaccinate,” which increased in use 34-fold this year, and “vaccination,” up 18-fold.

The Cambridge Dictionary has announced “Perseverance” as its Word of the Year 2021. It’s a word that perfectly captures the undaunted will of people across the world to never give up, despite the many challenges of 2021. Perseverance is defined as the continued effort to do or achieve something, even when this is difficult or takes a long time and the word has been looked up globally more than 243,000 times during 2021.

Prior to 2021, perseverance didn’t appear noticeably in lookups on the Cambridge Dictionary website. However, a spike of 30,487 searches for perseverance occurred between 19–25 February 2021, after NASA’s Perseverance Rover made its final descent to Mars on 18th February.

The Collins Dictionary has on the other hand chosen the cutting edge “NFT” or “Non-Fungible Token” as their word of the year. NFT is defined as a unique digital certificate, registered in a blockchain, that is used to record ownership of an asset such as an artwork or a collectible. Other finalists for the word of the year were pandemic-related words like “double vaxxed” and “hybrid working” as well as “Crypto,” short for cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, and “cheugy,” meaning clunky or outdated.

The 2020 Words of the Year are…

2020 is finally over. Happy New Year! Welcome 2021 and hope this year we finally see an end to all the suffering worldwide!

2020 has been a year like no other we have seen in our lifetime for which there is no precedent in living memory. And every year, most dictionaries put out what they feel is the most important word for the year, something that encapsulates what the year has been. The German tradition, Wort des Jahres was started in 1971. The American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year is the oldest English-language version, and the only one that is announced after the end of the calendar year, determined by a vote of independent linguists, and not tied to commercial interest. However, various other organisations also announce Words of the Year for a variety of purposes.

A Word of the Year is a word or expression that has attracted a great deal of interest over the last 12 months with shortlisted words hotly debated by llexicographers, editors and even the public involved in choosing the word that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance. So the word of the year is one which sums up the state of the world succiently and defines it.

For the first time, the Oxford Dictionary did not come up with a word for 2020 because according to them, it quickly became apparent that 2020 was not a year that could neatly be accommodated in one single “word of the year”, so they decided to report more expansively on the phenomenal breadth of language change and development over the year in their Words of an Unprecedented Year report. This report examines, in detail, the themes that were a focus for language monitoring in 2020, including Covid-19 and all its related vocabulary, political and economic volatility, social activism, the environment, and the rapid uptake of new technologies and behaviours to support remote working and living.  One of the year’s most remarkable linguistic developments, according to them, has been the extent to which scientific terms have entered general discourse, as we have all become armchair epidemiologists, with most of us now familiar with term like R number, flatten the curve and community transmission. You can download the report from here.

The Cambridge Dictionary has chosen Quarantine as their Word for 2020. According to their data, it was one of the most highly searched words on the Cambridge Dictionary this year. Quarantine was the only word to rank in the top five for both search spikes and overall views, more than 183,000 by early November, with the largest spike in searches at 28,545 searches seen the week of 18-24 March, when many countries around the world went into lockdown as a result of COVID-19. Noticing this spike in searches, the Cambridge Dictionary editors started to research how people were using the word quarantine, and found a new meaning emerging: a general period of time in which people are not allowed to leave their homes or travel freely, so that they do not catch or spread a disease. Research showed the word was being used synonymously with lockdown, particularly in the United States, to refer to a situation in which people stay home to avoid catching the disease. This new sense of quarantine has now been added to the Cambridge Dictionary, and marks a shift from the existing meanings, which relate to containing a person or animal suspected of being contagious. The two runner-up words to the word of the year was predictable – lockdown and pandemic. To know more, here is a short video.

Over at the Mariam Webster Dictionary, Pandemic was the word of the year chosen by them. According to Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster, this year the word pandemic is not just technical anymore, but has become a word in general usage and is probably the word which will be used to define this period and searches for the word pandemic on March 11 2020 were 115,806% higher than look-ups experienced on the same date in 2019. The word Pandemic, with roots in Latin and Greek, is a combination of the word pan, which means for all, and demos, for people or population. The latter is the same root of democracy and the word pandemic dates to the mid-1600s, used broadly for universal and more specifically to disease in a medical text in the 1660s, after the plagues of the Middle Ages. According to Sokolowski, the the traffic for pandemic was attributed not entirely to searchers who didn’t know what it meant but also to those on the hunt for more detail, or for inspiration or comfort.

The online dictionary, Dictionary.com also had Pandemic as its word of the year for 2020. An overwhelming choice, the word kept running through the profound and manifold ways our lives have been upended — and our language so rapidly transformed—in this unprecedented year. On March 11 when the WHO declared the COVID-19 as a pandemic, when only 4,291 lives were lost around the world, searches for pandemic skyrocketed 13,575% on Dictionary.com compared to 2019. The search volume for pandemic sustained the highest levels on the site over the course of 2020, averaging a 1000% increase, month over month, relative to previous years. Because of its ubiquity as the defining context of 2020, it remained in the top 10% of all lookups for much of the year since.

2020 has changed our vocabulary in ways that cannot be fathomed. Words that were previously scientific in nature have now become commonplace and are used in daily usage. Languages are constantly evolving but I don’t think there has been so many changes in such a short period. 2020 will be a year most of us will never forget, for many reasons and the pandemic that COVID-19 brought will be the foremost reason. This is a year, every one, including children will recount to their children and grandchildren and I pray that the future generations learn from our mistakes and don’t repeat them.