If you had to pick one word to describe this past year, what would it be? OK, I’m not sure I can print that in a family newspaper, but I hear you. I can think of a few choice words too, but it turns out, we don’t have to. Every year, expert lexicographers do it for us. (For the record, if you don’t recognize that term, I think lexicographers are people who graph lexicons.)
Yes, it’s that time of year again when the famous Oxford English Dictionary announces the official “Word of the Year.” I know you’re excited for this magical moment, but hang on, let’s look at a bit of Word of the Year history before the big reveal, shall we?
The OED and the Collins Dictionary have each been choosing what their blurry-eyed wordsmiths have diligently researched as the utterance that is “the most important word in the public sphere during a specific year.” And they’ve been studying this public sphere officially since the 1970s. And believe it or not, the Word of the Year has become important enough (to some nerds) that it even has an abbreviation. So if someone texts you with the acronym “WOTY” they are most certainly a major nerd or someone that really really likes acronyms.
But even if you aren’t an acronym addict or a major nerd, it’s quite telling sociologically, psychologically, and other ogicallys when we go back just a few years to see what was being spouted by millions of English language users at any given time. The WOTY really does capture the mood, milieu and memories of the day.
You’re probably dying for an example or two right now, I know I am. So, what were you up to seven years ago? If you’re anything like me, you can’t remember what you were up to seven minutes ago, let alone years, but fortunately, the WOTY can often trigger some historical context for us historically and contextually challenged humans.
The Word of the Year in 2013 was “Selfie.” Now, doesn’t that bring back memories of throngs of random cell phone obsessed people (teenagers) taking photos of themselves? The other WOTF from Collins Dictionary was “Geek.” Coincidence?
And here’s a good one from 2014: “Vape.” It clearly defines when the powerful Big Tobacco juggernaut companies were losing massive court cases for killing people and figured out a different way to addict people (teenagers) with electronic cigarettes.
And who can forget 2017? That was the year things really went south in the US of T when the new POTUS brought all the worst things about reality TV to the White House. Not surprisingly, the WOTY that year was “Fake News” which is kind of cheating on account of it’s actually two words. Perhaps the Word of the Year was fake news that year.
And last year was so unprecedented and messy that the OED couldn’t settle on one single word. The Collins, however, came up with an impressively appropriate one: “Lockdown.” A pretty obvious noun to capture the essence of 2020 for sure, but, again, I’m sure we all have a little more aggressive expression in mind.
So what about this year? (I’m doing a paradiddle drum roll right now…) The WOTY for 2021 is….: “Vax.” (with an “x”). Lexicographers remarked that the word “vax” had the “most striking impact” and touted it’s “versatility” in forming other words. Like: anti-vaxxer, double-vaxxed, and vaxxie. Now, one of those examples is the true definition of “selfish” and another means a selfie taken of being vaccinated.
Most of us certainly know which is which, but I don’t mind taking a little painless, life-saving jab at those who don’t.
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Send him a column idea to email@example.com.