Dumpster Fire Is 2016's Word Of The Year Because Even Linguists Are Over It

Photographed by Bianca Valle.
Dumpster fire is a metaphor used to describe “an exceedingly disastrous or chaotic situation.” So, naturally, the American Dialect Society has chosen it as its 2016 Word of the Year.

2016 was a tough year and it's hard to imagine a better word to describe its essence. In a vote cast by members of the ADS, “dumpster fire” beat out other Word of the Year contenders that included post-truth, woke, normalize, #NoDAPL, and the fire emoji.

Many linguistic organizations release "words of the year" but the ADS began the tradition in 1990, so its choice holds significance. The ADS Word of the Year must fit certain criteria, including being demonstrably new or newly popular and reflective of the popular discourse. After a nomination process, a committee of linguists, etymologists, grammarians, historians, writers, and more vote on the top word.

“As 2016 unfolded, many people latched on to dumpster fire as a colorful, evocative expression to verbalize their feelings that the year was shaping up to be a catastrophic one,” Ben Zimmer, chair of the society’s new words committee, said in a statement. “In pessimistic times, ‘dumpster fire’ served as a darkly humorous summation of how many viewed the year’s events.”

"Dumpster fire” perfectly sums up the collective mood of 2016, and it actually rose to prominence as a commonly used term. It was often used to describe the 2016 presidential election and became so popular that the AP Style Guide changed its rules to make the phrase.

In addition to summing up our collective nihilistic view of 2016, dumpster fire rose to prominence during the 2016 presidential election and was frequently shared in pure gif form. It was also expressed with a trashcan and a fire emoji, in shorthand.

See a full list of the winners from all the Word of the Year categories released by the ADS in 2016, including gaslight and bigly, along with a full list of Word of the Year nominees.
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