Roast chickens, politicians and manipulation: a wrap up of 2022’s ‘words of the year’
At the end of each year, dictionaries around the world announce their ‘word of the year’. Often focused on newsworthy events, trending slang and user search behaviour, they’re an interesting insight into the year that was. With past highlights such as Vax in 2021, Doomscrolling in 2018 and Fake news in 2017, they also inevitably garner headlines, debate and head-scratching from those who have ‘never heard that word before!’
For your linguistic enjoyment, here is a roundup of 2022 words of the year from a range of leading dictionaries.
As lockdowns and pandemic restrictions began to ease at the start of 2022, people began to emerge from their homes and return to the workplace, social events and more. However, not everyone was necessarily excited about this. Oxford Dictionary’s choice ‘Goblin mode’ went viral in February as it captured the mood of those who ‘rejected the idea of returning to normal life’. A slang term, it refers to ‘behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.’ One particularly vivid example refers to ‘like when you wake up at 2am and shuffle into the kitchen wearing nothing but a long t-shirt to make a weird snack’. It pairs well with Collins Dictionary’s selection, ‘Permacrisis’, as a rationale for why so many are choosing to stay in goblin mode.
The somewhat grim selection by Collins Dictionary describes ‘an extended period of instability and insecurity’. The word is a new addition to Collins in 2022, related to the impact of crises like the war in Ukraine, ongoing COVID-19, political instability, extreme weather events and more. Author David Shariatmadari summed it up as ‘a term that perfectly embodies the dizzying sense of lurching from one unprecedented event to another, as we wonder bleakly what new horrors might be around the corner’.
Both the Australian National Dictionary Centre and Macquarie Dictionary gave the gong to ‘Teal’ – but not just a reference to the greenish-blue colour. This was linked to the so-called ‘teal’ Independent political candidates who played a significant role in Australia’s 2022 Federal Election.
Macquarie Dictionary also conduct an annual ‘People’s Choice’ award, with notable nominees this year including spicy cough, quiet quitting, nepo baby and yassify. However it was ‘Bachelor’s Handbag’ that got the most support after what Macquarie described as a ‘record-breaking number of votes’. A slang term referring to a takeaway roast chicken, it’s a suitably humorous and Australian choice.
American dictionary Merriam-Webster put forward ‘gaslighting’, ahead of other topical terms such as oligarch, Omicron, and codify. Their definition for the term ‘is the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage’. It’s a word whose meaning has evolved in recent years, and Merriam-Webster noted that searches for it increased by 1740% in 2022.
Cambridge Dictionary’s choice of this word, an informal American English term for a home run in baseball, seems like a slightly odd selection. However, the logic behind it is uniquely 2022. Apparently homer caused a ‘huge spike in searches’ on their platform in May when it was the winning word for popular online word game Wordle. Like several other Americanisms featured on the game, it caused a good deal of confusion for international Wordle fans.
Dictionary.com describe their choice as ‘one of the oldest words in the English language’ and ‘a word that’s inseparable from the story of 2022’. Its prominence this year is tied to a number of newsworthy events and international discourse around transgender identity and rights, particularly the confirmation hearing of US Supreme Court Justice Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. They also noted that ‘More than ever, we are all faced with questions about who gets to identify as a woman (or a man, or neither). The policies that these questions inform transcend the importance of any dictionary definition — they directly impact people’s lives.’