January 18, 2021

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is “Toxic”

From Oxford University Press:

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2018 is TOXIC
Toxic adjective
Poisonous; relating to or caused by poison; very bad, unpleasant, or harmful

2018-11-14_19-04-30

Oxford announces toxic as its Word of the Year for 2018.
Defined as ‘poisonous’ and with its origins in Greek (toxikon pharmakon, meaning ‘poison for arrows’), the word toxic has added more strings to its poisoned bow during 2018, becoming an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics.

In its literal sense, toxic has been ever-present in discussions about the health of our communities and our environment with ‘toxic substance’, ‘toxic gas’,toxic environment’, ‘toxic waste’, ‘toxic algae,’ and ‘toxic air’ appearing as common collocates in our corpus data.  Even ‘toxic slime’ has made the headlines – not to mention the continued discussion around the toxicity of plastics.

But, it’s not just the physical that has been described as toxic this year.  Alongside the literal sense of the word, data shows that people have reached for the word to describe workplaces, schools, relationships, cultures, and stress.  Politically, the #MeToo movement has shone a spotlight on ‘toxic masculinity’ while, more broadly, the word has been applied to the environment, for debate fostered by the Brexit vote and by the rhetoric of leaders across the globe. Online, social media platforms, from Twitter to Facebook, have come under fire for the toxic impact they have on our mental health.

About the Word of the Year
The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression chosen to reflect the passing year in language. Every year, the Oxford Dictionaries team debates over a selection of candidates for Word of the Year, choosing the one that best captures the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year.

The Word of the Year Shortlist 2018
The Word of the Year (toxic) and the shortlist have been selected as they reflect the social, cultural, political, and economic trends and events that have been a part of 2018. The list includes words that have been coined this year as well as older words that have taken on new meaning or have particular resonance in 2018.  In alphabetical order, the shortlisted words for Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2018 are:

Big Dick Energy (BDE)
An attitude of understated and casual confidence 

BDE fast became the 2018 descriptor du jour after an exchange on Twitter in June captured the online community’s imagination.  In a now-deleted tweet, Ariana Grande appeared to comment on the physical endowment of her then fiancé, Pete Davidson. Amid the flurry of responses, Twitter user @babyvietcong used the phrase ‘exudes big dick energy’ in a joking character analysis of Davidson and the tweet went viral.

The term appears to have been coined by Twitter user @imbobswaget, who published a tweet eulogizing chef Anthony Bourdain, identifying him as a possessor of ‘big dick energy’. In doing so, @imbobswaget put a name to this phenomenon and, together with @babyvietcong, inspired a host of commentary speculating as to who, truly, exudes BDE.  Though the term has roots in the perceived confidence of the well-endowed, BDE is not exclusive to men; many women, such as Rihanna, Serena Williams, and Cate Blanchett, are among those identified as having this low-key, self-assured poise.

Cakeism
Primarily a word used in the UK, cakeism is the belief that it is possible to enjoy or take advantage of both of two desirable but mutually exclusive alternatives at once. 

Playing off the proverb ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’.  Though ‘cake’ has become the enduring metaphor for discussion of the terms under which the UK will leave the European Union over the past two years, 2018 has seen the neologism cakeism come into its own.

While earlier examples can be found, the first known use of cakeism in a political context is claimed by Bonnie Greer, writer for The New European, whose article ‘The delusions of Cakeism’ was published in September 2017. Since then, cakeism has become the go-to critique for Britain’s negotiating position, with one senior EU official calling Theresa May’s 2 March 2018 speech on Britain’s future economic partnership with the EU ‘still in the world of Cakeism’.

Carrying over the connotations but changing the context, in 2018 we are beginning to see examples of the word used in other industries, one being ‘climate cakeism’ in the insurance industry – the desire to tackle climate risks while continuing to invest in carbon intensive assets. 

Gammon
Typically used in the UK as a derogatory term for an older middle-class white man whose face becomes flushed due to anger when expressing political (typically right-wing) opinions.

Gammon has had something of a renaissance in 2018 – though not due to any sudden food fads. Thanks to parallels drawn between the fleshy, pink meat and the visages of older, white men flushed in anger, gammon has become a derogatory term in political circles.

Usage can be traced back to the 2017 UK general election when children’s author Ben Davis jokingly tweeted a photoset of nine men from the audience of BBC panel show Question Time calling it ‘this Great Wall of gammon’.

The term was picked up by left-wing activists and, in May 2018 gathered steam with Davis’ relatively old tweet gaining thousands of retweets, propelling the insult into the mainstream consciousness and gaining widespread media coverage. Subsequently, debate arose as to whether gammon could be considered a racist term because of its basis on skin colour.

Gaslighting
The action of manipulating someone by psychological means into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity. 

Gaslighting comes from the 1938 play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton in which a man manipulates his wife into believing that she is going insane.

In June 2018, the word hit UK headlines when domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid said a contestant on the reality television show Love Island exhibited ‘clear warning signs’ for this pattern of emotional abuse, with other commentators describing the behaviour as ‘textbook gaslighting’.  The concept has also been applied to political contexts this year, with the term used extensively of President Donald Trump, applied to the Conservative government’streatment of the issue of Brexit and, in India, becoming part of  the lexicon in the wake of the country’s own #MeToo movement, notably in discussions of campus culture at universities. 

Incel

Incel, short for ‘involuntarily celibate’, is used as a self-descriptor by members of an online subculture who typically deem themselves chronically unable to attract romantic or sexual partners. They hold views that are hostile towards to women and to men who are sexually active.

Brought together on internet forums such as Reddit, these men hold that it is women who are to blame for their forced celibacy by ‘withholding’ sex. The online spaces where incels communicate – such as the /r/Incels subreddit, which was banned in November 2017 – have consequently become hotbeds for the incitement of violent misogyny.
The term was coined, originally as invcel, more than twenty years ago by a woman named Alana who started a website for men and women struggling to find love: Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project. She could have no idea that the word would go on to be virulently radicalized online.
In April 2018, incel made front-page news when Alek Minassian drove a van into pedestrians on a Toronto street. It was discovered that shortly before the attack, Minassian had shared ‘The Incel Rebellion has already begun!’ in a now-deleted Facebook post.  He name-checked Elliot Rodger, the perpetrator of the 2014 Isla Vista killings, a man who has since been idolized by incel groups.

Orbiting

Orbiting Is the Action of Abruptly Withdrawing From Direct Communication With Someone While Still Monitoring, and Sometimes Responding to, Their Activity on Social Media.
The dating buzzword for 2018, orbiting was coined by Anna Iovine in an article for the Man Repeller blog in which she described a burgeoning relationship that abruptly ended due to an all but complete withdrawal by her would-be suitor who nevertheless persisted in engaging with her social media profiles.  Iovine dubbed the experience orbiting after a colleague poetically described this phenomenon as a former suitor ‘keeping you in their orbit – close enough to see each other; far enough never to talk.’ The phenomenon’s ubiquity ensured the term’s rapid spread on social media, striking a chord with many twenty-first-century daters.

Overtourism
An excessive number of tourist visits to a popular destination or attraction, resulting in damage to the local environment and historical sites and in poorer quality of life for residents.

Overtourism has become a heavy burden for numerous ‘must-see’ locations in recent years, with a sharp rise in holidaymakers fuelled by budget airlines and the widespread popularity of rental platforms, like AirBnB. The resultant overcrowding has caused environmental, infrastructural, and cultural damage to a number of destinations, and directly impacted local residents’ lives as they are priced out of their homes to accommodate the tourist demand.

According to our data, use of overtourism shot up over the course of 2017, thanks in part to mass protests across Europe demanding action against the overtourism pandemic, and has subsequently emerged in 2018 as the go-to term, surpassing both ‘anti-tourism’ and ‘tourism-phobia’, which have been used to similar effect.

Techlash
A strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley. 

Once hailed as society’s heroes, the tech giants we know and (used to) love have been braced for the oncoming techlash for several years now, but in 2018 the storm truly hit.  From George Soros’s attack on the monopolistic ‘menace’ of Facebook and Google at the World Economic Forum to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the public’s confidence in the tech industry’s ethics and ability to govern its creations has been undermined.  As such, 2018 has also seen a growing trend of young people giving up social media as concerns over their data privacy along with its impact on mental health supersede the desire to be online.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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