The 2019 Word of the Year is …

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“THEY.”

Well, that was anti-climactic.

Merriam-Webster defines “they” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Instead of using he/she or him/her, there is apparently a paradigm shift in conversational vernacular to eliminate gender identity.

Merriam-Webster started publishing the Word of the Year in 2003. Past selections were made based on analyzing popular searches on its website, but are now determined by an online poll and website suggestions.

Not to be outdone, other dictionaries publish their own Words of the Year. Oxford Dictionaries (US and UK) selected the phrase “climate emergency.” Oxford defines climate emergency as “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.”

Oxford’s editorial staff chooses the word or phrase, even though it may not actually appear in their dictionary.

In the same vein, Collins English Dictionary chose the phrase “climate strike.” Climate strike was selected when it became “a form of protest that took off just over one year ago with the actions of Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg and which has grown to become a worldwide movement.”

Collins also releases a short list, usually 10 words, that have come to prominence in the previous 12 months. The top word or phrase is selected by a Collins team of lexicographers and editorial, marketing, and editorial staff.

Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year is “existential.” It’s an adjective relating to existence or a characteristic of philosophy “concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individual’s freely made choices.” Their choice was actually influenced by the plight of Forky, the white plastic spork from the movie Toy Story 4.

The Australian English Macquarie Dictionary appears online and posts a list of new words for each year. Recent new words, starting from 2019 and working backward, include cancel culture, me too, milkshake duck, fake news, captain’s call, mansplain, and onesie.

Sometimes, the words on the short list are more interesting than those selected as Words of the Year. Short list words for 2019 from the various dictionaries included influencer, quid pro quo, and plant-based.

Consider the 2018 Words of the Year. Oxford chose “toxic,” Collins selected “single-use,” while Merriam-Webster settled on “justice.”

The shift in societal norms becomes clear when you look at past words of the year in sequence. Collins words of the year from 2017 backward were fake news, Brexit, binge watch, photobomb, and geek. Oxford’s past words were youthquake, post-truth, (emoji face with tears of joy), vape, and selfie. Merriam-Webster rounded out the list with feminism, surreal, -ism, culture, and science.

Widening the scope, you can include world-wide words in usage. The Global Language Monitor has selected the top words, phrases, and names of the year since 2000 using analysis of language usage in worldwide print, the Internet, and social media. Past top picks included opioids, meme, safe place, micro-aggression, trans, hashtag, and white privilege.

There is an annual list of “banished words” that has been released by Lake Superior University since 1976. What started as a tongue-in-cheek publicity stunt by Bill Rabe, the Michigan university public relations director, has become a 45-year tradition. Rabe and his friends came up with the first list of banished words at a New Year’s Eve party in 1975 and released that list on New Year’s Day. The university continued the tradition after Rabe retired in 1987.

The Lake Superior University “2020 Banished Words” list, published today, includes quid pro quo, artisanal, influencer, literally, I mean, living my best life, mouthfeel, chirp, jelly, totes, vibe, and OK Boomer.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know the meaning of some of these contemporary words and phrases, especially if you’re a Boomer like me, ok?

As with the other word lists, looking at archived banished words and phrases gives a glimpse into how our society has changed. Here’s a sample of previously banished words and phrases: wheelhouse, ghosting, pre-owned, nothing burger, skill set, twerking, spoiler alert, guru, baby bump, new normal, BFF, bromance, carbon footprint, 97% fat-free, metrosexual, bling, infomercial, my bad, to die for, mother of all (…), Yo!, spin doctor, same difference, quality time, yuppie, user friendly, moral majority, yuh know, memo, and macho. Now that’s a blast from the past!

What is your top Word or Phrase of the Year? What word or phrase would you like to see banished? Please write them in the comment section below.

 

Image from: merriam-webster.com


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