English dictionaries from around the world have chosen their Word of the Year for 2017. More than just markers of popular culture, WOTY choices reflect the themes and concerns that have been on the minds of English speakers all year. Here’s a rundown of the winning words:
feminism: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; or, organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests
Merriam-Webster’s editors choose their WOTY based on online lookup data, examining both growth in lookups over the previous year and spikes in lookups throughout the year. According to Merriam-Webster Editor-at-Large Peter Sokolowski, feminism saw a 70 percent increase in lookups during 2017 over 2016, and it saw a number of spikes throughout the year, starting in January after the Women’s Rights marches around the country.
Other contenders were complicit, dotard, empathy, federalism, gaffe, gyro, hurricane, recuse, and syzygy.
complicit: choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having complicity
I wrote about Dictionary.com’s WOTY choice two weeks ago. They also use lookup data to guide their choice of a word that “serves as a symbol of the year’s most meaningful events and lookup trends.”
In 2017, lookups for complicit spiked 10,000 percent on March 12, the day after Saturday Night Live aired a parody commercial in which Ivanka Trump (played by Scarlett Johansson) peddled a perfume called Complicit. It spiked 11,000 percent on April 4 after Ivanka Trump herself told Gayle King in an interview, “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.” She later said that she didn’t know what the word meant.
Oxford Dictionaries (U.K.)
youthquake: a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people
The Oxford English Dictionary being a British publication, its editors’ WOTY choice might be new to Americans’ vocabulary. According to OED data, youthquake saw a fivefold increase in usage during 2017, first in relation to the June special elections in the U.K., and then in New Zealand during the run-up to general elections in September.
OED editors judge youthquake to be “not only reflective of the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of this past year, but as having lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.” Time will tell if the word — and what it represents — will find a place in America.
Other words that made the OED’s shortlist: broflake, gorpcore, kompromat, and milkshake duck.
Cambridge Dictionary (U.K.)
populism: political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want
Cambridge University Press Publishing Manager Wendalyn Nichols notes that populism is a good WOTY choice because it is “a phenomenon that’s both truly local and truly global.” Like with other online dictionaries, Cambridge Dictionary editors look for trends in online lookups over the previous year to choose their WOTY. Populism (both the word and the concept) saw significant growth going back to the 2016 U.S. presidential election cycle, but lookups for the word spiked significantly during the year after Pope Francis offered multiple warnings of the dangers of populism around the world.
Cambridge includes the usage note with its definition of populism: “mainly disapproving.”
Collins Dictionaries (U.K.)
fake news: false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news
Collins was first out the gate with their WOTY choice back on November 2. They report that fake news saw “an unprecedented usage increase [of] 365% since 2016.”
Other shortlisted words for Collins’ WOTY include antifa, echo chamber, fidget spinner, gig economy, and a new definition of unicorn.
If you haven’t seen the video announcement of Collins’ WOTY, it’s worth a look.
Australian National Dictionary Centre
Kwaussie: a person who is a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand; a New Zealander living in Australia; a person of both Australian and New Zealand descent.
Amanda Laugesen, director of the ANDC, notes that this portmanteau of Kiwi and Aussie found popularity during the dual citizenship crisis that prevented six senators, one deputy prime minister, a senate president, and one member of parliament from holding office.
Kwaussie is a new word, but it wasn’t coined in 2017. One of its first citations is a reference to actor Russell Crowe, calling him “what you get when you cross a Kiwi who can’t decide whether they’re a Kiwi or an Aussie.”
In choosing its WOTY, the ANDC seeks out words that are popular, lexically interesting, and Australian. Other shortlisted words include jumper punch, makarrata, postal survey, and robodebt.
And no, jumper punch has nothing to do with boxing kangaroos.
Two groups choose their WOTY in January:
- The American Dialect Society will choose its WOTY during their annual meeting from January 4 to 7 in Salt Lake City.
- Editors at the Australian Macquarie Dictionary usually choose their WOTY sometime in early January.
[Updated 12/21/17 to add WOTY choice for Cambridge Dictionary.]