Thanksgiving is great and all, but around here, November means one thing: Word of the Year Season. And while Americans were fussing and fretting over mid-term elections, across the Atlantic, Collins Dictionary and Oxford Dictionaries quietly got the season started.
Collins Dictionary Word of the Year: Single-use
Announced November 6, Collins Dictionary’s 2018 Word of the Year is single-use, meaning “made to be used once only.”
Showing a fourfold increase since 2013, single-use describes the type of product that is a common focus among environmentalists. Many single-use items — and especially single-use plastics — make their way into oceans and waterways only to muck up ecosystems and be mistaken for food by wild animals.
Recent legislation banning or limiting the use of plastic straws in various cities around the U.S. as well as in the entire state of California are the most recent efforts to push back against single-use products, and more efforts (and more markets, for you capitalists) are surely on the horizon.
And who knows, the name of a technology developed to curb or replace single-use products could even become Word of the Year for 2019.
Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year: Toxic
Oxford Dictionaries announced yesterday that their 2018 Word of the Year is toxic, meaning “poisonous.”
Unlike Oxford’s WOTY choices for the last two years — the recent coinages post-truth (2016) and youthquake (2017) — toxic has been in use for more than three centuries. Its roots, however, took an odd turn to get here.
Ancient Greek warriors coated the tips of their arrows with toxikon pharmakon, meaning “poison for arrows.” But when the phrase was adopted into Latin, it was toxikon, from the word for “arrows” or “archery,” that was borrowed, and not pharmakon “poison.” Toxicum became the Latin word for “poison.” (Pharmakon developed separately to give us, among others, the word pharmaceutical, which deals with substances designed to heal us, not to kill us.)
Oxford reports that they saw a 45 percent rise in lookups of toxic this year at OxfordDictionaries.com, but their process for choosing WOTY isn’t based solely on lookup data. According to their announcement, “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.”
The idea that toxic “reflects … the preoccupations of the passing year” does not bode well, though perhaps it signifies that we, as a culture or as a people, have become more willing to name our problems and are thus taking the first steps toward solving them.
Part of toxic‘s cultural significance in the lexicon is its growing metaphorical use since the last decades of the twentieth century. Toxic has a long history of referring to physical substances like chemicals and waste, but more and more, English speakers are finding metaphorical uses for the word. Oxford reports that, of the top ten words that most often appeared with toxic over the last year, three — masculinity, relationship, and culture — use the word metaphorically. Second only to toxic chemical in that top-ten list is toxic masculinity, a phrase that doesn’t even appear before 1986 in the corpus used by the Google Books Ngram Viewer