Once again, it’s the time of year when the Cambridge Dictionary team looks back over the past twelve months to choose a word that represents what the dictionary, and what the English language, means to its users. This year’s word might surprise you, so read on to find out why the Word of the Year 2022 is… homer! Continue reading “Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2022”→
Choosing our Word of the Year required looking at not only the most searched-for words, but also ‘spikes’ – occasions when a word is suddenly looked up many more times than usual on or around a particular date.
On 22 January 2017, as a polarizing candidate was being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, searches for the word inauguration on the online Cambridge Dictionary spiked. But so did searches for the wordpopulism because, on that same day, Pope Francis warned against a rising tide of populism in a widely reported interview with ElPais newspaper. In mid-March, after another high-profile interview with the pontiff – this time with the German newspaper Die Zeit – searches for populism spiked again.
Spikes can reveal what is on our users’ minds and, in what’s been another eventful year, plenty of spikes can be directly connected to news items about politics in the US (nepotism, recuse, bigotry, megalomania) and the UK (shambles, untenable, extradite). The much-anticipated Taylor Review of working practices in the UK caused the term gig economy to spike in July, and of course the spectacular solar eclipse is reflected in the spike for eclipse on 21 August.
What sets populism apart from all these other words is that it represents a phenomenon that’s both truly local and truly global, as populations and their leaders across the world wrestle with issues of immigration and trade, resurgent nationalism, and economic discontent.
Populism is described by the Cambridge Dictionary as ‘political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want’.It includes the usage label ‘mainly disapproving’. Populism has a taint of disapproval because the –ism ending often indicates a philosophy or ideology that is being approached either uncritically (liberalism,conservatism, jingoism) or cynically (tokenism). Evidence from the Cambridge English Corpus – our 1.5-billion-word database of language – reveals that people tend to use the term populism when they think it’s a political ploy instead of genuine. Both aspects of –ism are evident in the use of populism in 2017: the implied lack of critical thinking on the part of the populace, and the implied cynicism on the part of the leaders who exploit it.
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?