Word of the Year 2016 (U.K.)

atkins bookshelf wordsLast year, the venerable editors of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) surprised the world with their rather cheeky selection for word — a symbol actually — of the year: the emoji. This year, they have returned back to their lexicological roots and selected an actual word: post-truth. As an adjective, post-truth is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The editors elaborate on their selection: “The concept of post-truth has been simmering for the past decade, but Oxford shows the word spiking in frequency this year in the context of the Brexit referendum in the U.K. and the presidential election in the U.S., and becoming associated overwhelmingly with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics. Post-truth has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines.”

The word, in the modern sense, was first used in 1992. In an essay for The Nation magazine, Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War wrote: “we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.” An informal word, related to post-truth, was coined by Stephen Colbert in 2005: truthiness, defined by the OED as “the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.” Post-truth politics, in turn, was coined (appropriately) on April Fools Day 2010 by blogger David Roberts in a post for Grist. Roberts defined post-truth politics as a political culture in which politics (public opinion and media narratives) have become almost entirely disconnected from policy (the substance of legislation).” A related word is demagoguery which is an appeal to people’s emotions and prejudices rather than their rational side.

The word post-truth was a seed that grew in the fertile soil of the internet, particularly social media. William Davies, an associate professor in political economy at Goldsmiths, University of London, elaborates: “The problem is that the experts and agencies involved in producing facts have multiplied, and many are now for hire. If you really want to find an expert willing to endorse a fact, and have sufficient money or political clout behind you, you probably can. The combination of populist movements with social media is often held responsible for post-truth politics. Individuals have growing opportunities to shape their media consumption around their own opinions and prejudices, and populist leaders are ready to encourage them. But to focus on recent, more egregious abuses of facts is to overlook the ways in which the authority of facts has been in decline for quite some time. Newspapers might provide resistance to the excesses of populist demagogy, but not to the broader crisis of facts. The problem is the oversupply of facts in the 21st century: There are too many sources, too many methods, with varying levels of credibility, depending on who funded a given study and how the eye-catching number was selected.”

Below are the contenders for word of the year 2016 that the editors of the OED considered, as presented on their website:

adulting, n. [mass noun] informal the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.

alt-right, n. (in the U.S.) an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content. Find out more about the word’s rise.

Brexiteer, n. British informal a person who is in favour of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union.

chatbot, n. a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.

coulrophobia, n. [mass noun] rare extreme or irrational fear of clowns.

glass cliff,  n. used with reference to a situation in which a woman or member of a minority group ascends to a leadership position in challenging circumstances where the risk of failure is high.

hygge, n. [mass noun] a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture):

Latinx, n. (plural Latinxs or same) and adj. a person of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina); relating to people of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina).

woke, adj. (woker, wokest) U.S. informal alert to injustice in society, especially racism.

Read related posts: Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year 2016
Word of the Year 2015 (U.S.)

Word of the Year 2015 (UK)
Top Ten Words of the Year: 2015
Word of the Year 2013

Word of the Year 2012
How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?
How Many Words in the English Language?

For further reading: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016

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