Words of the Year 2022 and what they tell us

Word of the Year (WOTY) season is approaching, and the first jingle of sleigh bells at Asda seems to come sooner, like the first Christmas TV commercials or the first complaint of an angry racist about too much variety in said TV commercial. every year.

Whatever cynicism we may have about it as a marketing exercise, it’s a useful time to review highlights from the year. After all, the words we use are a pretty good barometer of the changing world around us.

Whether you’re following new words for this year and seeing how they fit with our own experiences (or in most cases – “nepo baby” and “orange”, I’m looking at you) or following the methodologies used to follow new words, there’s a lot to think about.

And comparing this year’s words to previous WOTY shortlists and winners can be eye-opening. Some former WOTY winners are literally on the money. It was on the Collins Dictionary’s shortlists for “bitcoin” in 2013 and “crypto” in 2021. But does anyone remember Oxford’s “youth quake” in 2017 or Collins’ “Corbynmania” that same year? To be fair to Collins, they’re usually on their toes since this year’s election is “permacrisis” and it feels like it’s right.

It’s also interesting to see the diversity around the Anglosphere. While the world is certainly more united through online technologies – arguably more divided – there are still some “huh?” Moments when I look at the US or Australian charts.

For example, the Australian Macquarie Dictionary’s 2022 shortlist includes entries such as “bossware” (software installed on your computer to monitor your work), “orthosomnia” (preoccupied with getting the required amount of sleep, which the sleep tracking app tells you). yawn) and “clap” (a mix of applause and laughter to give a tick of approval rather than joy at a well-deserved joke), and that makes me feel a little empty.

It’s the epitome of the much-heralded Australian black, derogatory humor that appears in classics like “spicy cough” (a term for Covid) and “bachelor’s bag” (roast chicken served as a takeaway), “buddy smugglers” and “useful as dead”. looks like an example. dingo donger”.

However, others on the Macquarie list are quite familiar for their online prevalence – “blame”, “prebunking” and “keep silent” – even “gin mode” voted Oxford Word of the Year (voted by the public) perhaps showing that online language knows no bounds. .

The Cambridge Dictionary WOTY was another weird dictionary that didn’t quite fit the spirit of the place I was in – homer. His descriptions, however, shed some more light on the selection, pointing out that “homer” was chosen because there was a huge surge in searches after it appeared on the popular word game Wordle among confused English speakers outside the US. A largely US-centric word from a US-based sport channeled through an online wordplay feels less common as it gets more meta. And I’m not talking about that kind of meta either.

It raises some interesting questions about what a WOTY is and the different approaches favored by various dictionaries and lexicographers working for them. Increasingly, the dictionaries themselves are starting to show a little more of their work, and that should be good for the general public’s language education.

The Macquarie Dictionary is particularly good at getting ahead of the “but it’s not a word” brigade, with its explanations of lexical units and word-forming processes. In short, “It’s a word because we use it as a word, you drongo.”

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The Cambridge Dictionary – in their extensive discussion of the process behind choosing “homer” – tells us how they measure word searches, while several others (including Lynne Murphy, Kelly Wright and Ben Zimmer) use interviews and commentary by appropriate linguists. What’s going on.

On one level, WOTY is a corner-inch sales pitch and bun fight for publishers, and that’s fair enough: books are good and we should buy them if we can – but not from Amazon. The world-changing events of 2020, the global pandemic dominating many WOTY lists, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the tense US presidential election and aftermath – in a situation where Oxford Dictionaries (literally) were out of words, unable to decide on a single word for an unprecedented year. To leave.

There have been a few instances where dictionaries have tried too hard to “make the fetch” happen, jumping on a word that they thought might do well but often just limped off the track, and you have to wonder if WOTY is also a word. There is some competition not only between the words of the year, but also among the dictionaries themselves.

But I’m in favor of more lexicography getting into the public eye, especially if it’s as creative and inventive as the words we’ve seen this year.

Dan Clayton is an A-level English teacher and education consultant at the Center for English and Media.

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