While the votes are not yet counted for the American Dialect Society’s word of the year (WOTY) for 2018, the lexicon experts at Merriam Webster, Oxford Dictionaries, and Dictionary.com have already weighed in on their choices.
- For Merriam-Webster the word for 2018 was justice.
Their lexicographers said they chose the word because: “The concept of justice was at the center of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice.”
According to their announcement, justice was a top lookup throughout the year at Merriam-Webster.com, with the entry being consulted 74% more than in 2017.
- For Oxford Dictionaries, the WOTY was toxic, as in:
- Toxic chemical
- Toxic masculinity
- Toxic substance
- Toxic gas
- Toxic environment
- Toxic relationship
- Toxic culture
- Toxic waste
- Toxic algae
- Toxic air
Their rationale for choosing toxic? “The Oxford Word of the Year 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. In 2018, toxic added many strings to its poisoned bow becoming an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics. It is the sheer scope of its application, as found by our research, that made toxic the stand-out choice for the Word of the Year title.”
Their data showed a 45% rise in the number of times toxic was looked up on oxforddictionaries.com over the previous year. And the searches included in an array of contexts, both literal and metaphorical.
- For Dictionary.com, the 2018 word of the year was misinformation.
As they saw it: “The rampant spread of misinformation poses new challenges for navigating life in 2018. As a dictionary, we believe understanding the concept is vital to identifying misinformation in the wild, and ultimately curbing its impact.”
Dictionary.com defines misinformation as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” And in their announcement, they go on to say that, “The recent explosion of misinformation and the growing vocabulary we use to understand it have come up again and again in the work of our lexicographers.”
As noted above, the American Dialect Society will wait until their annual conference in February 2019 to make their choice, which allows for a retrospective look at the year just past. (Last year the Society’s pick was fake news.)
Is a single word a fair representation?
I suppose which word seems most appropriate to each of us depends on our personal perspective on the year, whether positive or negative, as well as the relationship we may have with the word over time, and the images it conjures up in our imagination.
If forced to choose among the three above, the word toxic certainly feels appropriate because of the constant negativity projected through news media. But I also like justice for its positive connotation.
The notion of finding a single word to define a year is preposterous, of course. In fact, to adequately describe the crucible of 2018 requires many words, often in conflict with one another, as in Dickens’ famous introduction to A Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …”
Still, I’m intrigued by the very notion of distilling down the essence of a period of time into a single, definitive figure of speech because it does feel so wonderfully simple and uncomplicated. That’s something I think many of us seek in today’s overly complex existence.
So, again, if forced to choose, I’ll go for justice. How about you?
On a side note: Did you know that the color of the year for 2019 is coral? Or more accurately, “living coral” Pantone #16-1546. Read what Jennifer Ott has to say about that choice on Houzz.com.