Words of the Year, 2016 Edition

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

Mignon Fogarty
5-minute read

They report they saw a 938% increase in lookups for the word xenophobia the day after the UK voted to leave the European Union and a smaller spike immediately after the US presidential election. The lexicographers noted that they already had their eye on xenophobia before 2016, because it also had a huge spike in 2015 after attacks on foreigners in South Africa.

Other words they highlighted as showing large search spikes in 2016 were hate crime and populism.

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, 2016: Post-Truth

The Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2016 was post-truth, which they define as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” According to Oxford Dictionaries, they saw large increases in searches for post-truth “in the context of the Brexit referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the US.” (See the chart.) Some of their other candidates included political terms such as Brexiteer, alt-right, and woke, and non-political words such as chatbot and (one of my favorites that you may remember me talking about in previous years) adulting.

Collins Dictionary Word of the Year, 2016: Brexit

Collins Dictionary chose Brexit as its word of the year. They first saw people using Brexit in 2013, but saw a 3,400% increase in searches in 2016. (I’m sure Math Dude would tell you that if you start from a small number, as you would for a new word, a 3,400% increase may not be that big in raw numbers, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that the search volume made it a worthy choice.)

Other candidates on the Collins list included Trumpism, mic drop, snowflake generation, Uberization (referring to the ride hailing company Uber and their business plan), and JOMO (which means the joy of missing out and is presumably a reaction to FOMO, which is the fear of missing out).

They also included the Danish word hygge (pronounced much like hookah, but with more of a G than a K sound in the middle), which means “the practice of creating cosy and congenial environments that promote emotional wellbeing.” Oxford Dictionaries actually included hygge too and their definition notes that it’s regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture. It’s hard for me to pronounce, but it’s a nice word, and there don’t seem to be many of them this year.

Those are the major dictionary words of the year based at least loosely on search volume, but just a few days ago, the American Dialect Society also chose its words of the year, which are based on votes at the group’s annual meeting, and you can see how it all unfolded by searching Twitter for the woty16 hashtag because multiple people were live tweeting from the meeting.

The American Dialect Society Word of the Year, 2016: Dumpster Fire

The American Dialect Society word of the year was dumpster fire, to mean “an exceedingly disastrous or chaotic situation,” and I always find the American Dialect Society choices to be the most interesting because they have categories and they even pick an emoji of the year. For example, the emoji of the year was the flame, and then they also included the emoji representation of dumpster fire as part of the dumpster fire choice. It’s a combination of a waste basket emoji and the flame emoji, presumably because there is no dumpster emoji.


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.

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