“But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think”
Once again, it’s that time of year when dictionaries begin to publish their “word of the year” (WOTY). For almost 30 years, different publications or groups have been publishing a selected English word of the year. The American Dialect Society (ADS) lays claim as first to publish an English WOTY, beginning in 1990. All of the chosen words from 1990 to the present can be found on their website.
Many other countries, including Denmark, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Russia, the Ukraine and India, also have a word of the year. The German word of the year (Wort des Jahres), selected by the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (for those who speak German) or Association for the German Language, dates back to 1971, the oldest according to our research.
Get to the point (or word) already
While the ADS won’t issue its word until early 2019 (FYI, ADS’ 2018’s word was “fake news”), other dictionaries have been kinder to those interested and have already published their 2018 words of the year. Typically, the words chosen are a product of the current political, economic and/or cultural environment, and this year is no exception. Dictionary.com has chosen “misinformation” as its word of the year. Misinformation is defined as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” While “misinformation” and “disinformation,” defined by Dictionary.com as “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda,” are often used interchangeably, Dictionary.com explains that “misinformation” was deliberately selected based on the rise and spread of misinformation and as a call to action to be vigilant against the spread of false “facts.”
Just one more word
Oxford English Dictionary has also published its WOTY, “toxic,” defined as poisonous. According to Oxford, the Oxford WOTY “is a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance. Toxic experienced a 45% increase in look ups on oxforddictionaries.com in 2018. The word “toxic” is often used in conjunction with other words, such as “toxic waste,” “toxic reaction,” etc. In 2018, the word “toxic” was most used with was “chemical,” perhaps partially due to the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter in Britain this fall.
Never underestimate the ability of words to lift you up, sometimes bring you down and to capture the essence of an experience or a period in time. Used judiciously, they can communicate a powerful message. Overused, they become meaningless and ignored.