Which Of These Words Best Represents 2016?

Illustration by Mallory Heyer for Refinery29.
Here is a random assortment of words that were added to the Oxford English Dictionary in the fall of 2016: butt-fuck, cheeseball, clickbait, fuhgeddaboudit, jagoff, ‘Merica, shoppertainment, squee, vom, uspeak, Yogalates, and YOLO. I can't explain exactly why, but somehow that collection seems to sum up these last 365-odd days and the vom clickbait jagoff butt-fuck garbage saga that they've overwhelmingly been. And yet, not a one of these words really feels like it is of this particular annum. Probably because the OED isn't updated in real time. YOLO is just so 2013, isn't it? But the OED additions got me thinking about which words actually did define our year and set the tone for the way we'll look back on it. There are, of course, myriad to choose from, including a few that have roots stretching back to before January 1. Woke is still going strong, and bae remains on the charts, though slightly less prevalently than it once was; "boomin'" — DJ Khaled's signature catchphrase, of which he has many — made its way into a presidential campaign, as did made-up, Trumped-up words like "bigly," and of course, the divisive "YUUUGE." Mansplaining (a word which arguably spawned "manspreading") hit peak usage in 2015, but was embedded in a certain strain of feminist vernacular this year too, especially when it came to debate nights. Words like "clap back,"'ship", and "high/low -key" leapt from the youth speak into more generalized usage. (A note on "new" millennial and Generation-Z words: We might actually be witnessing a language renaissance play out right now, the likes of which haven't been seen since the '80s, when words like "rad", "tubular", "gnarly", and "fresh" made their way into everyday conversation.) Is was only a matter of time before "stan" became OED official. At this point, is Urban Dictionary just as relevant and useful as a dog-eared copy Miriam-Webster?

We might actually be witnessing a language renaissance play out right now, the likes of which haven't been seen since the '80s.

Then there are the words of the year that aren't even words at all: While the eggplant emoji made the American Dialectic Society's top-of-list last year, we're still waiting to find out which one will beat out the rest in 2016. (Stay tuned for that story in early January.) Personally, my money is on that adorable avocado emoji. It might be basic AF, but it's also a good go-to for when you don't know what else to say. I find myself in that situation more and more often lately, or at least in a position where illustrated food items are all there is left to say. As for hashtags of 2016: The top trends bent toward the political — or at least toward political commentating. #LoveIsLove, which kicked off after Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony Awards acceptance speech in June was mirrored by the top Instagram hashtag of the year, which was simply: #love. It wasn't all warm fuzzies, though: Twitter recently announced that both #PokemonGo and #RIP were big ones this year too, for obvious reasons. (Goodnight, sweet Prince, and also David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Leonard Cohen, among others.) #BlackLivesMatter (both the hashtag and the movement) is still going strong, as is the record-correcting about words and phrases that began in Black culture and then lost their original meaning after being adopted by broader culture. (Don't even get me started on the memes — that's a different story, and one you can read for yourself right here.) Unfortunately (and now, finally, we arrive at the summit of this story), the international word of the year — selected by Oxford Dictionaries based on the astronomical growth of its usage — reflects something unsettling about the moment we're living in, and have been living in for much of the last 12 months and more. That word is "post-truth." It means just what is sounds like, and is a logical heir of the word of the year from exactly one decade ago — "truthiness." It seems that facts are at once more important, but less insisted upon, than ever, which isn't just a scary thought for lexicographers. But while "post-truth" might be OED's official pick, I would suggest another, slightly related nom de '16. I've never heard the word "rigged" as often — or with as much vitriol behind it — as I did this year. And while that word may have been in the dictionary all along, it has certainly taken on new — but not necessarily improved — meaning, for all of us.

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