“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been before.”
-Ranier Maria Rilke
For the first 27 years, I commuted into Seattle for work, I bought a daily newspaper on my way to the 6:20 a.m. ferry and read it on my way to work. Since I started working from home nearly three years ago, I don’t take the ferry to work and consequently don’t read the daily paper.
To me that makes perfect sense since buying a newspaper was an important and enjoyable part of my regular routine then. Since it is no longer part of my routine, I don’t do it anymore. I like to think of this situation as part and parcel of being a Connoisseur of Routines.
My less charitable acquaintances are more apt to see it as a crippling and illogical fixation on habit. I would politely disagree. I have shown numerous times in numerous ways that I am perfectly capable of giving up my bad habits as soon as an equally satisfying good habit becomes available to me.
In addition to not reading the daily newspaper, I prefer not to watch the nightly news on TV. I get most of my news the way most of the country seems to get it – by overhearing conversations while waiting for my turn at the barbershop and periodic doom-scrolling through the news feed on my cell phone.
That was how I came across one of my favorite year-end news items recently – the selection of the “Word of the Year” by various dictionary publishers. I figure if I know what the most used words were in the previous year, I can pretty much extrapolate everything that was going on in the world that year.
Merriam-Webster selected “gas-lighting’ as its Word of the Year for 2022. Gas-lighting is wildly misleading someone for personal advantage, especially spouting untruths designed to cause the target audience to doubt its own perception of reality. Merriam-Webster logs about 100 million page views a month on its website from people seeking definitions of words and bases its selection of its Word of the Year solely on the data it gathers from users of its website. Merriam-Webster’s site saw a 1,740% increase in searches of the term “gas-light” in 2022 over similar searches from 2021.
The Oxford Dictionary went in a slightly different direction. It selected its Word of the Year based on the results of an online vote open to the public. Some 340,000 people voted on Oxford’s site and 93% opted for “Goblin mode” as their Word of the Year. I hate to quibble with either Oxford Dictionaries or the public, but “goblin-mode” seems to consist of two words.
I am also suspicious of any election where 93% of the voters voted the same way. And finally, I had not previously heard that phrase, which refers to an unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy and slovenly lifestyle, often done as a way of intentionally rejecting prevailing social norms. For what it’s worth, the second and third-place runners-up in Oxford’s vote were “metaverse” and “# I stand with” (which is actually three words and a symbol but who’s counting).
Oxford Dictionaries president and head lexicographer Caspar Grathwohl defended his company’s vote approach and pointed out that in past years Oxford’s Words of the Year were less controversial (“vax” in 2021; “selfie” in 2013 ; and “climate emergency” in 2019).
Dictionary.com’s most popular word of 2022 was “woman,” most often searched for in the context of understanding issues around transgender rights. Searches of ‘woman’ on Dictionary.com increased 1,400% from 2021 to 2022.
Collins Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2022 was “permacrises,” meaning extended periods of instability and insecurity, lurching from one global crisis to another while wondering bleakly what new horrors lie ahead. (Last year Collins named “NFT” as its Word of the Year, which suggests that many of its users were ahead of their time).
Finally, on a related note, the most popular word of 2022 based on total number of Google searches was “wordle;” 7 of the top 10 most searched words on Google last year were words that happened to be answers to wordle puzzles.
So what does this all mean? What can one deduce about the state of the world based solely on Words of the Year from authoritative sources? Beats me. Ask someone who reads a newspaper.
Tom Tyner writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper.