Words of the Year, 2016 Edition

According to several online dictionaries, here are the 2016 words of the year.

Mignon Fogarty
5-minute read

Online Dictionaries aren't just convenient, they give the people who run the dictionary sites a view into the zeitgeist in a way that was never possible when people looked up words in physical books. Lexicographers see data about what visitors are looking up, and naming words of the year based on search spikes or overall increases in search volume for particular words has become a tradition. This year, it’s pretty clear that political news and events were driving searches.

Merriam-Webster Word of the Year 2016, Surreal

Merriam Webster’s word of the year for 2016 was surreal, which the lexicographers said spiked after the terror attack in Brussels in March, again in July related to a coup attempt in Turkey and a terror attack in Nice, and finally again in November after the US presidential election.

Their definition of surreal is “Marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.”

Highlighting the influence of US politics, other top Merriam-Webster searches in 2016 were bigly, which is a word (but is a rarely used word), deplorable, and feckless, which Mike Pence used in a vice-presidential debate.

Dictionary.com Word of the Year, 2016: Xenophobia

Dictionary.com also cited search spikes caused by global political events as the reason for choosing its word of the year: xenophobia (which their dictionary defines as “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers”).


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

You May Also Like...