Towards the end of every year, dictionaries announce their word of the year. One assumes that this would be based on the constancy of usage of that word during the year, but that is not the case. Instead, the word has often been chosen because people are not familiar with it or its meaning and have searched the dictionaries online for it. In some instances, too, it’s because bigwigs at the dictionaries want to push or give prominence to a particular word.
Keep in mind also, that dictionaries do not always agree on what the word of the year should be, so there is always more than one word.
This year, to the surprise of many, Oxford, which is one of the most famous and respected dictionaries chose ‘youthquake’ as its word of the year. This choice caused a great kerfuffle, even in the United Kingdom, where it was claimed that there had been a spike in its usage. As an aside, kerfuffle would have been a good choice for 2017 word of the year as there was a lot during these past 12 months that caused commotion.
As per the Oxford, youthquake was coined in 1965, by Diana Vreeland, then editor-in-chief of Vogue, in an editorial she wrote for the magazine’s US edition in January that year. According to the dictionary’s website, youthquake had never been heard before that and Vreeland coined it to describe “the youth-led fashion and music movement of the ‘swinging sixties’, which saw baby boomers reject the traditional values of their parents.”
Oxford claimed that the word saw a resurgence this year during the UK’s general elections when many young people became actively involved in politics. Their activism gave the Labour party a huge boost, although it did not win the election. Politicians, it was stated, used the word to describe this movement and it was then used widely in New Zealand as well when there was a similar turn of events during that country’s elections.
However, following the Oxford’s announcement, there was a virtual Twitter storm as many, including the demographic referred to in the word, said they had never even heard it. Some commentators accused Oxford of foisting the word on the world.
Merriam-Webster, another lexicon of considerable universal standing, chose feminism as its word of the year.
According to the powers that be at that tome’s offices, the word was virally searched for beginning in January after the global women’s marches. But it exploded during the second half of the year with the #metoo movement, which saw women opening up about sexual harassment and assault they had suffered at the hands of famous and powerful men, publicly making allegations and where possible following through to obtain justice.
What is significant about this is that in most of these cases, the harassment and assaults were alleged to have taken place years ago, but women’s voices were not heard or when they were they were ignored; 2017 was the year that all changed.
Although many hail Merriam-Webster’s word choice, it has to be disappointing to the feminist movement that began in the ʼ60s, led by stalwarts such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, that it has taken more than 50 years for this kind of recognition. More so because as Merriam-Webster explains, its choice of the word was because it was looked up more than any other word this year. It is 2017 and too many people still do not know what the word means.
Dictionary.com, a totally online resource, chose complicit as its word of the year. This was because it saw multiple spikes in searches for the word. The website said the word sprang up “in conversations this year about those who speak out against powerful figures and institutions and about those who stay silent.” It said one of the spikes came after US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is a member of his White House staff reportedly said that she did not know what it meant to be complicit. There was an 11,000 per cent increase in persons looking for the meaning of the word after that.
Aside from the dictionaries, some sectors have chosen words of the year; in the fashion industry, the word was power, in marketing it was AI (two words actually, as they stand for Artificial Intelligence), in health it was uncertainty. Some countries have also identified words that were impactful. In Germany it was Jamaika-Aus (Jamaica out) referring to the collapse of coalition talks among three political parties whose flags colours are black, yellow and green – the colours of the Jamaican flag. In Norway, the word chosen was falske nyheter (fake news), made famous by President Trump. Also in the running was ‘covfefe’, which was tweeted by Trump this year, but the meaning of which, unfortunately or fortunately, no one, not even he, knows.
What word should be chosen as Guyana’s word of the year? There are quite a few that would make the shortlist, including blackout, green and ExxonMobil. But maybe readers have their own choices in mind.