As the year draws to a close, dictionaries and companies from around the world try to sum up the past 12 months in a single word. In 2018, ugly politics, natural disasters and climate change garnered the most attention, leading to a pretty grim collection of words of the year. Fortunately, there’s also a rising trend of people picking their personal words of the year, so you can always choose your own! But before you do that, look at what various committees around the world have chosen as their 2018 words of the year.
Definition: (adj.) poisonous
After a look at search volume and world events, Oxford Dictionaries chose “toxic” as its word of the year. The word had a 45 percent boost in searches over 2017. Plus, the editors note that it’s a very versatile word. It can refer to the toxic chemical that poisoned a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter, the toxic waste that is slowly killing the environment, and the toxic masculinity that is being called out in the ongoing #MeToo movement. If that’s not enough, there are also toxic environments, toxic relationships and toxic politics. Oxford included a list of runners-up, featuring words such as incel, gaslighting, big dick energy and gammon (that last one is a kind of ham, and refers to the angry red faces of older, middle-class white politicians).
Honorable Mention: The Cambridge Dictionary has a vote in the United Kingdom for the “People’s Word of the Year,” and this year it’s “nomophobia.” This word is defined as “the fear and worry caused by being separated from your mobile phone,” which is a relatively new phenomenon. While most phobias come from Latin roots, there were no mobile phones until much more recently, so this word is actually a shortening of “no mobile phone phobia.”
Definition: (n.) hot time
The Association for the German Language chose “heißzeit” as the German word of the year. The word literally translates to “hot time,” but it’s a play on words with “eiszeit,” which means “ice age.” It refers to global warming and climate change, which the Association for the German Language points to as the biggest problem facing the world in the 21st century. Runners-up for German word of the year were Funklochrepublik, which could be translated as “Republic of No Phone Service,” and Ankerzentren, which is the name for the admission centers for refugees in Germany.
Definition: (n.) the quality of being just, impartial, or fair
The United States-based dictionary Merriam-Webster chose “justice” as its word of the year. The editors pointed at the 74 percent spike in searches this past year as one of the main reasons for the choice. And while the dictionary gave a plethora of other reasons for the selection — Madonna saying she “couldn’t do justice” to Aretha Franklin at the singer’s funeral, criminal justice reform — most of it revolved around President Donald Trump. From Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice to the allegations of the president’s obstruction of justice, the word just kept popping up in headlines. Whether or not justice has been served is up for debate.
Honorable Mention: Also in the United States, Dictionary.com chose “misinformation.” This follows in the footsteps of “fake news,” a word of the year from 2017, but can be applied more generally to all of the false information being spread online and in real life.
Definition: (n.) disaster
The Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation lets Japanese citizens vote on the kanji (Japanese character) of the year, and this year they chose 災, which is pronounced either sai or wazawai, and it translates to “disaster.” The word was likely chosen because of a horrible set of natural disasters over the past year, including extreme heat, fires, mudslides, torrential rains and 27 typhoons. The runner-up in the vote was “peace,” followed by “end,” which is either very ominous, or a reference to Emperor Akihito’s announcement that he would abdicate his role in April 2019 after 30 years in power.
Definition: (adj.) made to be used once only
The Scottish Collins Dictionary chose a less political word than most this year: “single-use.” It refers to products like plastic bags, plastic water bottles and packaging that are designed to be used a single time. According to Collins, the use of the word has increased a huge amount over the past five years, and it’s garnering attention as a massive environmental issue. The debate over straws, for example, hinges on the fact that they’re single-use and contribute to ocean pollution. Runners-up for Collins’ word of the year included floss (the dance, not the dental tool), plogging (picking up litter and jogging at the same time) and VAR (video assistant referee, which was regularly referenced during the FIFA World Cup).
Definition: (n.) the insular environment of federal politics
The Australian National Dictionary Centre went for “Canberra bubble,” a local political term this year. It refers to Canberra, the capital city of Australia, where the government is housed. The “Canberra bubble” is used to disparage federal politics, insinuating that politicians care more about internal affairs than helping the people of the country. The term first appeared in 2001, but gained in popularity when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison started to use it in 2015 to set himself apart from “politics as usual.” It’s a pretty direct analog to American President Donald Trump calling Washington, D.C. “the swamp” and pledging to drain it.