As every year comes to a close, the major dictionaries, along with social scientists and media analysts, select a word that best describes the quality or character of that given year. The exercise isn’t just some whimsical attempt at anthropomorphism; it’s designed to make a historical statement about that year’s cultural milieu. The cultural milieu surrounding the events of 2016 left many of us disgusted.
Here is a survey of the major picks for the Word of 2016. We saved the very best video for the end (hint: Stephen Colbert). Let us know in the comments what your choice is and why. We will present our own pick on Sunday.
NPR did several stories, choosing ‘Whatever‘ as the most annoying word of the year (for the eighth year in a row.) Their linguist contributor, Geoff Nunberg chose ‘Normal,’ especially in the context of ‘The New Normal.’ He also offered a fair critique of the media normalizing racist nationalists by using the term ‘alt-right.’
Tuesday, in “The ‘Other Word of the Year” on NPR‘s “Here and Now” journalist Petra Mayer’s offered her pick, ‘Unhinged’. To her “it seems like the adjective of choice for 2016 and the people who had to live through it.” In their limited survey of online news, ‘unhinged’ was used 615 times in 2014, 784 times in 2015 and, ironically, 2,017 times last year.
In light of both the Brexit vote and the rise of Donald Trump, Dictionary.com chose ‘Xenophobia’, fear or hatred of foreigners, noting that “this particular year saw fear rising to the surface of cultural discourse,” (CNN). They released a video to go along with their word that also seems to serve as a PSA:
Merriam-Webster’s selection, ‘Surreal’, “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream” was the top lookup on their site and Mirriam-Webster went on to explain that, “Surreal is looked up spontaneously in moments of both tragedy and surprise, whether or not it is used in speeches or articles. This year, other spikes corresponded to a variety of events, from to Prince’s death, to the Pulse shooting in Orlando; from the Brexit vote, to commentary about the presidential debates.”
The Oxford English Dictionary chose a more philosophical approach to last year, going with ‘Post-Truth’, “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.” On The Late Show, Nov. 18th, Steven Colbert took issue with Oxford’s pick in his monologue:
With these picks in mind, we want to hear from you. What word best describes 2016 to you? What word would you like to see for the year that is just beginning? Let us know in the comments and have a Happy New Year.