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Words of the Year, 2016 Edition

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

By
Mignon Fogarty

And interesting aside about the word dumpster is that it was originally a trademarked term and was capitalized. A company called Dempster Brothers trademarked their Dempster-Dumpster in the 1930s, but it has became such a generally used word that it’s now common to see it lowercase. AP style is lowercase, but the New York Times appears to continue to capitalize dumpster.

You may be wondering how two words—dumpster fire—can be the word of the year, which seems like it should be a single word, but the American Dialect Society press release explained that the “Word of the year is interpreted in its broader sense as ‘vocabulary item’—not just words but phrases.” I presume that the Collins Dictionary used the same rationale for snowflake generation and mic drop.

Their digital word of the year was the @ symbol used as a verb, as in “don’t @ me,” woke was their slang word of the year, and gaslight was their most useful word of the year.

I’ve actually been meaning to write about the verb gaslight for a couple of months because I kept seeing it on Twitter and could not figure out where it came from, and it turns out the story is interesting. Gas lighting is form of psychological manipulation where an abuser makes people doubt their sanity by denying that something that happened really happened. For example, a boyfriend might promise to pick up his girlfriend from work, not show up, and then swear that he never made the promise and that she’s the ditzy one. The gaslighter will do things like this over and over with such brazen confidence that the girlfriend really does start to wonder if it’s her. But why would this be called gas lighting?

It turns out it comes from a 1944 Ingrid Bergman movie called Gaslight, which was based on a popular play called Angel Street when it ran on Broadway, in which a manipulative husband who has murdered their wealthy upstairs neighbor causes the gas lamps in the house to dim while he repeatedly is searching for the missing woman’s jewels, and then he tries to convince his wife that it isn’t happening—that she isn’t seeing the lamps dim before her very eyes and that she is going insane.

So that was our wonderful year in words according to lexicographers and linguists, and all of you who search for words in online dictionaries. I’m going to try to take deep breaths and focus on hyyge.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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