2017 Words of the Year

This year, every word of the year had a political meaning—some good and some bad. "Fake news" was the clear winner, but there were some interesting WOTY surprises too.

Mignon Fogarty,
January 11, 2018
Episode #603

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Merriam-Webster: Feminism

Merriam-Webster chose “feminism,” noting that it saw a big increase in lookups for the word throughout the year with big spikes related to specific news events such as the Women’s March on Washington in January and the release of the Hulu series “The Handmaids Tale.”

Dictionary.com: Complicit

Dictionary.com chose “complicit,” saying it saw a 10,000% increase in lookups after Saturday Night Live “aired their satirical ad showing Ivanka Trump hawking a made-up perfume called Complicit,” and an even bigger spike a few weeks later when Ivanka Trump gave an interview saying she didn’t know what it meant to be complicit.

The Telegraph: Covfefe

The British newspaper “The Telegraph” ran a poll for its word-of-the-year, and its readers chose “covfefe” (C-O-V-F-E-F-E), which is actually not a real word. It showed up in a tweet from Donald Trump in late May when, from context, it appears he meant to type the word “coverage.” The tweet read “Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” which caused a flurry of confusion, jokes, and alarm. (Since the tweet also stopped mid-sentence, people wondered whether something had actually happened to the president.)

Cambridge Dictionary: Populism

The British Cambridge Dictionary, chose “populism” as its word of the year, which could apply to British, American, and global politics. The dictionary defines “populism” as “political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want,” and the dictionary saw an overall increase in use, and spikes related to news events, such as when Pope Francis said that populism can mean different things in different parts of the world, but he worries that populism gave rise to Hitler and that in times of crisis, people sometimes lack good judgment. In other words, what they think they want might not be the best thing for them.

Oxford Dictionaries: Youthquake

Oxford Dictionaries, also a British dictionary, stuck to local politics with its choice: “youthquake.”

This one had many people in the US scratching their heads. I‘d never heard the term, but according to Oxford, its editors saw a fivefold increase in use from 2016 to 2017, largely related to the unexpectedly high number of young voters who turned out in the UK’s general election. It was a youthquake—like an earthquake,  significant and unexpected.

Australian National Dictionary Center: Kwaussie

The Australian National Dictionary Center also stuck to national politics with its choice: “Kwaussie.” (I hope I’m saying that right: K-W-A-U-S-S-I-E.) Like “broflake” and “youthquake,” “Kwaussie” is a blend, mixing “Kiwi” and “Aussie” to describe “a person who is a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand.” It became a big deal this year when, according to ABC News, “a dual citizenship crisis…prevented six senators, one deputy prime minister, a senate president, and one MP from holding office.”

Haggard Hawks: Agathism

And to end on a happy note, the Haggard Hawks website word of the year was “agathism,” the belief that all things eventually get better, though the means of getting there may not be easy.” It emerged as an English word in the early 1800s and comes from the Greek word “agathos,” which means “good” or “noble.” Haggard Hawks is a website that covers obscure words, language facts, and etymology.

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