What's in a Word?

Every year, Dictionary.com, Oxford Dictionaries, Collins Dictionary and Merriam-Webster publish a “Word of the Year” loosely based on search volume. The American Dialect Society (ADS) votes on its Word of the Year and even has an Emoji of the Year. Last year, the ADS held its annual meeting in Austin which in addition to hosting speakers and voting for the ADS word of the year, consisted of enjoying wine and food while a bunch of linguists correct each other’s grammar. Not sure about you, but that is something I would LOVE to attend.

Which brings us to the words.

Although there were technically several Words of the Year, they all seem to be circling a common apocalyptic theme that makes me wonder: can a year fail? If the Words of the Year are any indication, 2016 is probably an utter disappointment to its parents: still sleeping on their couch and playing video games while its younger sister, 2015, is happily applying to med schools.

But take a look for yourself, and tell me what you think...

For 2016, Dictionary.com chose "xenophobia." There was a little bump in searches for xenophobia after Brexit (Collins’ Word of the Year) and the U.S. Presidential election. “Hate crime” and “populism” also made their list. Ouch, 2016. Can’t we all just get along?

Oxford’s word was "post-truth." Other candidates were “woke” and “adulting.” Seriously. Post-truth. We now live in a world (ok, I would argue that we have lived in this world for a long time, but I have teenagers), where The Truth simply doesn’t matter anymore. As a marketer, this isn’t really news, I guess. We know that facts are often less convincing than emotional appeals, which is why pharmaceutical advertisers would much rather show people playing tennis and walking on the beach than talk about what the drug actually does. This is also why the FDA has a whole slew of regulations about why they still have to talk about what the drug actually does. But I digress...

As previously alluded to, politics was the focus of the words for Collins Dictionary’s Words of the Year. In addition to "Brexit," the publication also selected Trump-ism as a runner-up. Now, before you start thinking that is hugely strange, Collins is quick to point out that similar words have been introduced during political changes such as Thatcherism and Reaganomics.

Similar to Oxford’s postmodern choice, Merriam-Webster chose "surreal." Searches spiked during tragic national events such as Prince’s death and the Orlando Pulse shooting as well as during the wake of the US Presidential election. “Surreal” was really the only way I could describe watching the election results coming in on November 8 and how I felt the next day. This could be a great concept for marketers to tap into as we try to appeal to the current zeitgeist.

If I had to guess who would have come out with the stuffiest word for 2016, I would have guessed the American Dialect Society, but I would have been wrong. Their word (please note: the “Word of the Year” can also be a phrase), "dumpster fire," is the most fun and my favorite on the list. Even though it describes something that is a total disaster, it connotes a sense of us all being in it together as well as a little dark humor about the state of the state in 2016.

It should not come as a surprise, then, that the Emoji of the Year was the fire emoji.

fire emoji, Word of the Year, dumpster fire

This could be used along with the trash can emoji to signify a “dumpster fire,” but it can be used on its own for something exciting or "lit."

word of the year, trashcan emoji, dumpster fire

The 2016 words come in a pretty stark contrast to the 2015 words which included “GIF,” singular use of “they,” the suffix -ism, and the joy emoji. I, for one, would much rather be laughing myself to tears right now rather than thinking about the dumpster fire of 2016, but to each her own.

So what do you think about the words of the year? Are they a good representation of what you are feeling right now and what is going on around you? Any guesses for the 2017 words? While you’re thinking about it, I would love to see someone create a haiku using all the 2016 words and the emoji. That would truly bring me... 

joy emoji