As we come down to the end of the year (wasn’t it just March??), dictionaries and other associations of word nerds have been releasing their words of the year. At the end of the year, of course, will come the 44th collection of words and phrases to be banished according to those participating in Lake Superior State University’s annual list.
This time of year is heaven for people like me. Pardon the giddy laughter. Or not. You can always join in.
I’ve already mentioned Collins Dictionary’s designation of “single-use” as its word of the year. While in some instances (such as medical supplies) “single-use” is rightly used, I still maintain that the thriftier among us find other uses for many supposedly single-use items like margarine bowls (the go-to for buttons and other small items) and shopping bags (perfect for scooping up kitty litter). Thanks, Grandma.
Merriam-Webster usually releases its word of the year in mid- to late December, so you’ll just have to wait for that one.
Earlier this month, though, Oxford Dictionaries released its 2018 word of the year, which unfortunately put a Britney Spears earworm in my head (et tu, Oxford?). “Toxic,” meaning poisonous, won out over words like “gaslighting” (manipulating someone into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity), “incel” (involuntary celibate, those angry online guys who blame women for everything bad that’s ever happened to them) and “overtourism” (too many tourists at popular destinations resulting in damage to the environment and historical sites and poorer quality of life for residents).
According to Oxford: “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. 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 standout choice for the Word of the Year title.”
Yep, toxic pretty much describes this past year. Sheesh.
Oxford reported a 45 percent rise in how many times “toxic” was looked up on oxforddictionaries.com, and said the word has been used over the past year “in an array of contexts, both in its literal and more metaphorical senses.” Toxic was used most often with the words “chemical” (think the poisoning of the former Russian spies in the U.K.) and “masculinity” (thanks to things like the #MeToo movement and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings). “Relationship” and “environment” were also used quite a bit, placing emphasis not only on the physical toll, but also the psychological impact of crushing workloads and harassment.
On Monday, Dictionary.com chose “misinformation”—“false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead”—as its word of the year. On its blog, it wrote: “The rampant spread of misinformation poses new challenges for navigating life in 2018. As a dictionary, we believe understanding the concept is vital to identifying misinformation in the wild, and ultimately curbing its impact. … The recent explosion of misinformation and the growing vocabulary we use to understand it have come up again and again in the work of our lexicographers.
“Over the last couple of years, Dictionary.com has been defining words and updating terms related to the evolving understanding of misinformation including disinformation, echo chamber, confirmation bias, filter bubble, conspiracy theory, fake news, post-fact, post-truth, homophily, influencer, and gatekeeper.”
Gee, most all of them things I’ve decried (though I haven’t specifically discussed homophily, I have talked about like seeking like).
Misinformation isn’t the same as disinformation, though, which Dictionary.com defines as “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda,” meaning the difference between the two is intent. However, since so many people believe misinformation (like that the 9th Circuit is the most overturned federal appeals court when the 3rd, 6th and 11th circuits are overturned more, according to The Associated Press), it seems to me that it’s almost been weaponized into disinformation, especially when it’s continually passed around on Facebook, Twitter, email, etc., even after being conclusively disproved.
Mis- or dis-, either way it’s not something that should be shared. Unless you don’t want thinking people to trust you.
Although if you follow a certain orange-hued dude, you probably don’t care. That means you’re part of the problem.
You wouldn’t be wrong if you sensed an ongoing political theme to many current and past words of the year. Politics infects everything now. This is why word nerds can’t have anything nice anymore.
To my knowledge, Oxford has yet to blatantly troll the president (of course, they’re veddy English and might need a translator), but Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com delight in gigging him. Merriam-Webster has been doing that for the past couple of years on Twitter, such as tweeting the definitions of “fact” (because there’s no such thing as “alternative facts”), “yes” and “no,” and other relevant words, as well as offering spelling advice (if I were on Twitter, I’d probably troll him over “leightweight chocker” too).
Dictionary.com’s last three words of the year seem to have been aimed squarely at the administration; along with this year’s “misinformation,” 2017 brought us “complicit,” and “xenophobia” in 2016. It’s also very politely offered some spelling help. How considerate!
As one commenter said in a tweet tagged to Kelleyanne Conway’s Twitter account after the “alternative facts” gaffe, “[W]hen the dictionary is trolling you, you might want to reconsider everything in your life.”
Some advice to politicians and those who work for them: As much as many word nerds dislike politics, we’re not above using our words. We know a lot of ’em.