Happy Word of the Year season! Selecting a single word to describe the year started as just a fun thing dictionaries would do, but it’s since become a way people gauge what the most important idea was over the preceding 12 months. Because of the popularity and ensuing media coverage, many groups have started declaring words of the year.
Words of the year have gotten granular to the point that there are even marketing words of the year and legal technology words of the year. While they can be a little silly, looking at some of the words chosen from around the world can actually give you some pretty decent insights into what’s going on in various countries. For that reason, Babbel compiled a non-exhaustive list of some of the words of the year and included some context as to why they were chosen.
Merriam-Webster takes a data-driven approach toward words of the year, which makes it resistant to any charge of bias. This year’s word is feminism, and the dictionary representatives noted a number of spikes in searches for it throughout the year. There was the Women’s March on Washington that caused searches for the terms the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Kellyanne Conway caused an influx in look-ups when she said she wasn’t a feminist because she thinks being a feminist is being “anti-male” (it’s not). Pop culture also added to the word’s prevalence, with people trying to find the definition after watching Wonder Woman and The Handmaid’s Tale. Then there’s the ongoing sexual harassment reckoning that began in the fall of 2017. Almost any glance at the news will show you the impact feminism is having on the world this year.
Honorable Mention: Complicit. So many American dictionaries chose words of the year, this list could be devoted to just the United States. To include just one more word, “complicit” was Dictionary.com’s word of the year, and it came in second on Merriam-Webster’s list. The word reached its peak in 2017 when Ivanka Trump mentioned her definition of the word in an interview, and it received another bump when Saturday Night Live parodied that interview.
Jamaika-Aus, which roughly translates to “Jamaica Out,” is Germany’s pick for word of the year. The Society for German Language mentions they chose words that are more politically relevant, rather than just going for the most frequently used. In any case, Jamaica here does not refer to the country, but to a coalition. Because of the German election this year, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party lost its control of the government, and thus she needed to create the Jamaica coalition so she could maintain her power to lead. The coalition was supposed to comprise Merkel’s Christian Democrats, the Christian Social Union, the Green Party and the Free Democrats. If you’re confused about “Jamaica” being the name, it’s because the colors of the parties combined would be black, green and yellow, which also happen to be the colors of the Jamaican flag. The -aus part of the word references to the fact that talks fell through, and the coalition failed. This failure means Merkel has pretty much three choices: form a new coalition, call a new election or step down. In an unstable Europe, Jamaika-Aus has added to the chaos in 2017.
Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of kwaussie before, neither have a lot of Australians. The word was chosen by a panel of judges at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, and it has caused a number of people to complain they’d never seen it before. According to the Centre, the word was chosen because it was both important in 2017 and uniquely Australian. Kwaussie is a portmanteau of Kiwi and Aussie, and it is defined as just a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand. It could also refer to any person who’s an Aussie living in New Zealand or a Kiwi living in Australia. The word reached public prominence in August when Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was revealed to be a kwaussie, and so was forced to step down because politicians are not allowed to be dual citizens. Joyce renounced his New Zealand citizenship and won his position back later in the year. The word is not in wide use.
Skipping across the pond, the British word of the year was populism. The Cambridge Dictionary’s representatives said the word was chosen because it spiked several times, and that they looked at both local and worldwide trends. The largest spike of “populism” followed President Trump’s inauguration, when an interview with Pope Francis was published in El Pais where he warned against populism in the world. More local to the United Kingdom, the success of Brexit is also often attributed to populism, with the United Kingdom Indepence Party frequently being called “populist.” More recently, Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party has been called a populist, which seems to be contradictory. Then again, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were both labeled populists, revealing that the word can be co-opted by people with very different political beliefs.
Honorable Mention: Youthquake. To be fair to the Oxbridge divide in the United Kingdom, we’ll also mention the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year. The word, coined by Vogue Editor Diana Vreeland means “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” It was chosen to reflect the increase of young people’s involvement in politics, and it was used in this year primarily to describe the people who rallied behind Jeremy Corbyn. Oxford has said “youthquake” was used significantly more this year than last, but that hasn’t stopped a huge number of people from complaining they have no idea what it means.
In a vote, the citizens of Taiwan chose the Chinese character 茫, or mang, for 2017. The character roughly translates to “confusion.” Because it was a vote there’s no way to know the exact reasoning for the choice, but there’s plenty of speculation. One theory is that “confusion” is being created by Taiwan’s efforts for independence from China. The United States is currently working on a National Defense Authorization Act for 2018, which includes a provision for U.S.-Taiwan mutual warship docking. If the United States were to put warships in Taiwan, it could give the country the opportunity to gain independence, or it could lead China to strengthen their hold on the province. There were also widespread protests by workers in the country in opposition to new rules that would raise the number of days a worker is allowed to work consecutively while lowering the rest time between working periods. On top of that, a massive power outage left almost the entire country in the dark this past summer. Thus, it’s no surprise that Taiwan (and many other countries) would be confused about the future.
The kanji character chosen in a poll conducted by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation to represent 2017 was 北, which is pronounced kita and translates to English as “north.” This isn’t just a random cardinal direction; it refers specifically to North Korea. While we here in the United States have been plenty worried about North Korea thanks to an ongoing feud between Trump and Kim Jong-Un, the situation in Japan has been even more heated. North Korea has sent two missiles over the Japanese island Hokkaido, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called a snap election to deal with the national crisis. Fittingly, Hokkaido is located to the far north of mainland Japan. Some have suggested the word “north” may also refer to a potato chip shortage caused by a lack of potatoes in Hokkaido, or to excitement over Hokkaido local Shohei Ohtani signing with American baseball team the Los Angeles Angels. North Korea is likely the primary reason for the choice, however.
Yes, a lot of the words discussed so far have had something to do Trump, but fake news is the most directly caused by him. Trump did not invent “fake news” (even though he claims he did), but it has become his catchphrase whenever the media reports on something he disagrees with. “Fake news” reached its prominence in large part because of the United States, but it’s become a global phenomenon. It was chosen as word of the year by the Collins Dictionary in Scotland, the Language Council of Norway, and the Macquarie Dictionary in Australia (that was technically their 2016 word, but they named it in 2017). In Norway it’s technically the “new word of the year,” as it was added to the Norwegian language for the first time. “Fake news” has become a rallying cry for people who wish to attack the credibility of media all around the world, being shouted by leaders from practically every developed country. The “fake news” has been exacerbated by the fact that there is indeed a lot of falsehood out there, which muddies the water and has caused a large-scale collapse of trust in the media sources. If there were a global word of the year, this would likely be it.
We couldn’t round up all the words of the year without getting into the mix ourselves. So to celebrate an end to 2017, we decided to announce our first ever Babbel Word of The Year. This year, we unveiled our “Speak A New Language With Confidence” tagline. With it, we want to encourage everyone to learn to the best of their ability, so they can communicate with others around the world without the usual anxiety and stress. Therefore, in 2017, we decided our word would be confidence. This word didn’t just come from us. It was created with the input of countless user interviews and focus groups, and we chose it because we found that confidence struck a chord with a huge number of people. Granted, this word carries a much more aspirational tone than most of the others on this list, but that’s kind of the point. Sure, the current feeling in the world might not be the most confident, but this word isn’t about the world, it’s about you. When it comes down to it, there’s nobody that can make you confident but you. In a world filled with fake news and confusion, we’ve decided we want to end this year on a confident note. But don’t take it from us, take it from Julie Andrews.