It’s that time again, when publishers reveal the word or words that they believe encapsulate the year. As many readers will know from previous years, we like to base our word on what our millions of users worldwide have been looking up over the course of the year. And what a year it’s been: in June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, causing great uncertainty in the UK and across Europe (even now, the only certainty we have is that Brexit means Brexit); then, in November, after a vicious and divisive campaign, the people of the United States elected businessman Donald Trump as President ahead of politician Hillary Clinton, in one of the most extraordinary political stories of modern times. Add to this the ongoing backdrop of a bloody civil war in Syria, several terrorist attacks around the world and numerous celebrity deaths, and there can be no denying that it has been an eventful and worrying year.
As ever, global events are reflected in the words you look up on our site. So what single word has had the biggest increase in searches over the whole year? Ladies and gentlemen, the Cambridge Dictionary Word of the Year for 2016 is . . . paranoid.
Why paranoid? Searches have risen hugely this year, over four times more than in 2015. We cannot, of course, know exactly why users are searching for a particular word, but it suggests perhaps a feeling that the institutions that have kept us safe can no longer be trusted, that the world feels more uncertain than it did a year ago. When we look at other words that have shown similar increases, we can build a fuller picture: anxiety, chaos; a feeling that societies are breaking down; increases in prejudice, bigotry and bullying; and people feeling nostalgic for what are perceived as simpler times.
But perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom: another word that has seen a big increase in searches is adorable – maybe our users are comforting themselves with videos of cute animals, and trying to think happier thoughts?
glass wallnoun [C usually singular] UK /ˌglɑːs ˈwɔːl/ US /ˌglæs ˈwɑːl/ a barrier to becoming accepted or included at work, usually affecting women or minority groups
The ‘glass wall’ that divides men and women they argue, is the new glass ceiling. Women aren’t just being overlooked for the next promotion; they are being shut out behind a glass wall by male-oriented office culture. [Marie Claire 07 September 2016]
brass ceilingnoun [C usually singular] UK /ˌbrɑːs ˈsi:lɪŋ/ US /ˌbræs ˈsi:lɪŋ/ a point after which someone, usually a woman, cannot reach a higher position in the military
Mariette Kalinowski, a former Marine, writes in the New York Times that while the “brass ceiling” is cracked, it is not gone because the military culture of hypermasculinity has not yet changed. [www.linkedin.com 09 February 2016]
man taxnoun [C or U] /ˈmæn ˌtæks/ a tax that has to be paid only by men
Owners of a New York City independent pharmacy recently imposed a one-day, 7% “man tax” in their efforts to raise awareness of the ongoing nationwide debate over taxes on feminine hygiene products and the gender inequality women experience when purchasing personal health products. [www.pharmacytimes.com 21 October 2016]
sneakerheadnoun [C] UK /ˈsniː.kə.hed/, US /ˈsniː.kɚ.hed/ someone who owns, buys and sells sneakers (UK= trainers), especially those with rare or unusual designs
With celebrities from Kanye West to Pharrell Williams now designing their own styles for Nike and Adidas, respectively, sneakerheads have gone from a subculture to dominating the culture. [Newsweek 21 May 2016]
glungenoun [U] /glʌndʒ/ a type of fashion that combines glamour and grunge
What do you get if you merge glamour with a dose of grunge a la X Factor’s Rita Ora? Glunge, duh! [Reveal 04 January 2016]
shacketnoun [C] /ˈʃæk.ɪt/ a light jacket, similar to a shirt
Step forward the shacket: the shirt-come-jacket. The shacket … is heavier than a cotton shirt but lighter than say, a denim or utility jacket. [The Telegraph 15 March 2016]
Have you ever wanted to describe an area of the countryside but found you didn’t have the right words? If so, we’ll fix that this week with a look at words and phrases that we use to describe different landscapes.
To start with the most basic description, an area of land that is mainly covered with grass or trees is often described as green: There are so few green spaces in the city. An area that is especially green, in a way that is attractive, may also be described as lush: lush green valleys. A more literary word for this is verdant: All around her were verdant meadows.
Meanwhile, a landscape that has few or no plants because there is so little rain may be described as arid: Few animals can survive in this arid desert landscape. (A technical description for an area that has little rain but is not completely dry is semi-arid: a semi-arid zone.)
Land that is extremely dry because rain has not fallen for a long time is often said to be parched: parched earth/fields. Sun-baked, meanwhile, describes land that is hard and dry because it has received so little rain for so long: The sun-baked earth was full of cracks.
Other words describe the shape of the land. A hilly area has lots of hills: The countryside round here is very hilly. The phrase rolling hills is often used in descriptions of attractive landscapes with many gentle hills: Everywhere you look, there are rolling hills. The rather literary word undulating is also used to describe this type of landscape: This picturesque village is surrounded by undulating hills.
Meanwhile, a landscape with bigger hills – mountains – is mountainous: a mountainous region. If those mountains have snow on the top, they are often referred to as snow-capped: a snow-capped mountain range.
Still with the shape of the land, craggy describes an area with lots of rocks sticking out: a craggy coastline. Rugged is very similar, describing an area of land that is wild and not flat: These photographs really capture the rugged landscape of the region.
Of course, not all landscapes are green and hilly. An area may be flat. If there are no trees, hills or other interesting features, it may appear rather featureless: It was a grey, featureless landscape.
Two negative adjectives that are sometimes used to describe featureless landscapes are bleak and desolate. Both are used for areas of the countryside that seem empty and cold, with nothing pleasant to look at: The house stands on a bleak hilltop.
Another adjective sometimes used in this context is windswept. A windswept area of land has no trees or other high structures to protect it from the wind: The picture shows a desolate, windswept landscape.
When were you last out in the countryside? How would you describe the landscape?
socialatingnoun [U] UK /ˈsəʊ.ʃə.leɪ.tɪŋ/, US /ˈsoʊ.ʃə.leɪ.tɪŋ the practice of combining a romantic date with a social outing with friends
Socialating means pretty much what it sounds like – sociable dating – and is a growing trend amongst people who like to mix meeting new people with hanging out with their mates. [www.mysinglefriend.com 27 April 2016]
ghostingnoun [U] UK /’gəʊs.tɪŋ/, US /’goʊs.tɪŋ/ the practice of ending a romantic relationship by suddenly breaking off contact with the other person
There’s now officially a word for that weird phase out/disappearing act that people can do to end a relationship before pretty much ceasing contact all together – and it’s called ‘ghosting’. [Marie Claire 12 September 2016]
TWAGnoun [C] /twæg/ tech wife and girlfriend: the wife or girlfriend of a entrepreneur in the technology industry
Silicon Valley has become the new Hollywood, as moguls and social media barons take over from film stars and sportsmen not just on rich lists, but as alpha men. Being a co-founder of a company is this decade’s equivalent to being a rock star or a chef. If their attractiveness to models and actresses proves anything, then being a TWAG […] is a ‘thing’. [The Sun 25 July 2016]
November 8, 2016, marked the end of one of the most eventful presidential election campaigns in United States history. People across the globe watched closely as American voters turned out to cast their votes for their next president – including the millions of people who use the Cambridge Dictionary to help them understand the language used in the English-speaking media.
The Cambridge Dictionary staff tracked the words that were looked up most frequently in the 24 hours from when the polls opened the morning of November 8 until the morning of November 9. All of the words in this blog post that are linked to definitions in the dictionary were looked up with unusual frequency. The full list is at the end of this post. Continue reading “The US election in 24 hours of words”→
Saying no to a kind offer or invitation can be tricky. We often feel slightly embarrassed by it – the last thing we want is to upset or offend the person who is making the offer. Luckily, there are a number of ways to ‘soften’ the refusal – to make it more polite and acceptable. This post aims to show you how.
Let’s imagine someone invites you out to dinner with a group of friends on Friday and you are unable to go. Of course, you could simply reply ‘No, thank you.’ or say ‘I can’t.’ but either of these responses might sound a little rude – or at least, not very friendly! The easiest way to ‘soften’ your reply is to start with an apology and a brief explanation of why you can’t come:
vertical farmingnoun [U] UK /ˌvɜː.tɪ.kəlˈfɑː.mɪŋ/, US /ˌvɝː.t̬ə.kəlˈfɑːr.mɪŋ/ a farming technique in which food crops are grown in vertical stacks
Proponents of vertical farming call it the “third green revolution”, analogizing the developments to Apple and Tesla. They tout the potential of such technology to address food shortages as the world population continues to grow. [The Guardian 14 August 2016]
Clexitnoun [U] /’klek.sɪt/ an exit by a country from international climate treaties
First there was Brexit […]. Now a movement is building that would further stun the supranationalists: an exit from the United Nations climate change protocol, dubbed “Clexit.” Brexit happened, and Clexit could be next. [The Washington Times 11 August 2016]
chemical taxnoun [C or U] /ˈkem.ɪ.kəl ˌtæks/ a tax on the purchase of items that are difficult to recycle
The Swedish government is planning tax breaks on various items to encourage repairs and recycling. The aim is to make Sweden less wasteful and make the economy more friendly to the environment. […] Buying new white goods and computers will also be made more expensive, thanks to a new so-called chemical tax on hard-to-recycle goods. [www.bbc.co.uk/news 19 September 2016]