Every year, Oxford Dictionary shortlists words that "reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year" and have "have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance".
English language learners could do worse than taking note of this list. After all, these represent the most important words of the last 365 days; a representation of the present zeitgeist. Practising with the most influential words of the year not only brings language lessons to life, but gives valuable context to the abstract concepts learned.
Last year, "youthquake" was the unusual winner. Defined as a “significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people", it was apparently coined in the 1960s to describe the swinging youth culture of London. In 2017, its renaissance, which saw its frequency increase a whopping 400 percent, is attributed to the massive role young people played in UK's general election.
For 2018, these are the words that struck big:
Definition: (Adj) Poisonous; Relating to or caused by poison; Very bad, unpleasant, or harmful.
This year's international Word of The Year is Toxic. The choice doesn't just stem from its frequent use, but also in the sheer range of contexts it's been used. The phrase "toxic masculinity" flooded this year's political discourse, most prominently through the coverage of the #MeToo movement and Brett Kavanaugh's Senate hearing.
“So many different things are tied together by the word,” said Connor Martin, Head of Oxford Dictionaries in the US.
"Masculinity" was the second-most habitually used alongside toxic, followed by substance, gas and environment. The top toxic collocate (defined as words that are habitually juxtaposed with another with a frequency greater than chance) was chemical.
Definition: Manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.
— Drawbinista (@drawbinista) November 16, 2018
Formerly reserved for the notebooks of psychotherapists, this word featured heavily this year.
The manipulation referred to in the definition could take the form of misunderstanding the victim, questioning how they remember events, dismissing their valid worries as "crazy" or "sensitive" to the point where the victim no longer knows what's real and what isn't.
US President Donald Trump's treatment of the media is seen as an extreme example of this, so much so that media practitioners have admitted it's making it really hard for them to adequately convey to readers how "deeply saturated in bad faith" it really is.
Definition: A member of an online community of young men who consider themselves unable to attract women sexually. Typically, they hold views that are hostile towards men and women who are sexually active.
Self-identified incels are mostly white, male and heterosexual. Source: Shutterstock
Short for "involuntary celibate", this term is borne out of an online subculture in which forum members put their celibacy down to women "withholding sex". They are consistent advocates for rape, glorifying and inciting violent misogyny.
The term made front-page news worldwide this April when Alek Minassian deliberately drove a van into pedestrians on a crowded Toronto street, killing 10 people and wounding 14 others. He had posted on Facebook earlier: "The Incel Rebellion has already begun!".
Definition: A strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley.
A barrage of criticism on Big Tech. Source: Shutterstock
Merge "technology" with "backlash" and you get Techlash. A reflection of the battering tech giants have taken this year - from calls for increased regulation to the Cambridge Analytica scandal - Silicon Valley is no longer the media darling it once was.
This year, the public voiced concerns over many industry practices, including questionable data privacy, disinformation, anti-competitive practices and tech’s impact on mental health - a list of concerns that Techlash perfectly encapsulates.
Definition: 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.
Whatever happens, hopefully politicians will start listening to young ppl after this. This Great Wall of gammon has had its way long enough. pic.twitter.com/N0ZWI3wMuM
— Ben Davis (@bendavis_86) June 8, 2017
In the food world, Gammon refers to pork meat that has been cured in the same way as bacon. It's traditional British pub grub served with pineapple or fried egg.
But its 2018 renaissance has nothing to do with the popular comeback of the food. Instead, it refers to the pink colour of the meat and how it resembles the colour of white men in anger. What began as a collage of nine men from the audience of BBC panel show Question Time is has now gone mainstream, with news organisations coming up with analytical pieces dissecting the word and whether it's racist, the reason for it blowing up on social media and why its' often used against Brexiteers.
6. Big Dick Energy
Definition: An attitude of understated and casual confidence
A.B. radiating BDE. Source: Shuttterstock
We have Ariana Grande to thank for this one. Grande had tweeted (before deleting) about the physical endowment of comedian Pete Davison, her then fiancé. Naturally, the rest was Twitter history.
BDE, for short, has since been used to describe late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, musicians Prince and David Bowie, even fictional character Mad Max. Women can possess BDE as well - Rihanna, Serena Williams and Cate Blanchett are some of today's pop culture queens with this low-key, self-assured poise.
The phrase goes beyond describing celebrities. Writing in The Guardian, Brigid Delaney uses it to dissect gender, calling it "in some ways…the opposite of toxic masculinity’. Vice wrote: “Big dick energy does not care for your pathetic gender binary and will not pander to it."
“Chris Hemsworth wielding a ludicrously big hammer with arms the size of cows and yelling a lot? Feeble big dick energy. Cate Blanchett simply standing there smirking, but, like, only using her eyes somehow? Powerful, powerful big dick energy.”
Definition: 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.
Trust the Brits to drag cakes into politics. Source: Shutterstock
You guessed it. Cakeism has its origins in the proverb: "You can’t have your cake and eat it (too)". It's been co-opted as a critique against the idea that the UK could leave the European Union but still insists on having all the perks that come with EU membership. Strangely, it began as a pro-Brexit reference, when one Conservative MP’s aide was photographed leaving Downing Street in November 2016 with notes reading: "What’s the model? Have cake & eat it."
Definition: An excessive number of tourist visits to a popular destination or attraction, resulting in damage to the local environment and historical sites and poorer quality of life for residents.
Overtourism is killing Venice. Source: Shutterstock
Venice. Santorini. Athens. These are the cities afflicted with this condition, where there are a disproportionate number of tourists (Read: too many) in relation to locals.
Europe saw mass protests against overtourism in 2017, with 2018 seeing local authorities reacting with measures to make the industry more sustainable. In Europe, this resulted in measures to regulate the proliferation of AirBnBs, capping the number of cruise ships permitted to dock in Dubrovnik, implementing rent caps in Berlin, etc.
In Asia, overtourism was blamed for the environmental destruction of Thailand's Maya Bay. Tourists started arriving en masse to the Thai island after it was made famous in the 2000 film The Beach. Nearly 20 years later, it closed its doors to the public to recover from the effects of overtourism.
Definition: The action of abruptly withdrawing from direct communication with someone while still monitoring, and sometimes responding to, their activity on social media.
The reprehensible dating trend to emerge this year. Source: Shutterstock
Forget ghosting. Orbiting is the dating term to replace it in 2018. Anna Iovine first used the word in a Man Repeller blog to describe the actions of a man she met on Tinder:
"It’s now been over two months since we’ve spoken, and Tyler not only still follows me on Instagram, he looks at every single one of my stories. This is not ghosting. This is orbiting."
It's a phenomenon where a former suitor “keeps you in their orbit” — close enough to see each other; far enough to never talk.
Given how embedded we are with social media, millennial daters were quick to adopt the word and today, it is firmly in our lexicon.