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Word of the Year 2015 - Shortlist

In addition to the Word of the Year itself, Oxford Dictionaries staff have put together a shortlist of notable words that have gained linguistic currency during 2015. These range across a variety of subjects, from global politics and current affairs, to technology and popular culture. Here is a closer look at those words, in alphabetical order.

ad blocker, noun

A piece of software designed to prevent advertisements from appearing on a web page.

Ad blocker

Recent studies have shown increasing use of ad blockers by Internet users, prompting a flood of concern in the media about the viability of free digital content funded by advertising. Accordingly, we’ve seen a 24-fold increase in the frequency of the word ad blocker since this time last year, as online commentators ponder whether the future of the Web as we know it is in jeopardy.

Brexit, noun

A term for the potential or hypothetical departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Brexit

In the early part of 2015, the European portmanteau on everyone’s lips was Grexit (a blend of Greek and exit), referring to the potential withdrawal of Greece from the eurozone. However, a new bailout agreement was reached in July, making Grexit less likely and causing use of the word to diminish. Meanwhile, use of the similarly formed word Brexit began to increase, as the Conservative party won victory in the UK’s May general election made a referendum on the UK’s future in the EU likely in 2017.

Dark Web, noun

The part of the World Wide Web that is only accessible by means of special software, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable.

Dark Web

Whereas the term Deep Web refers to the parts of the Internet that cannot be found using search engines, Dark Web refers specifically to websites which use encryption tools to hide the identities of hosts and users of a site, often in order to facilitate illegal activities. The term has been growing in popularity in media coverage of cybercrime.

lumbersexual, noun

A young urban man who cultivates an appearance and style of dress (typified by a beard and checked shirt) suggestive of a rugged outdoor lifestyle.

lumbersexual

The word lumbersexual—bridging the vast gap between lumberjack and metrosexual—was coined as early as 2008, as beards and checked shirts began to be de rigeur among urban males, but it wasn’t popularized until late 2014. Usage was high in early 2015 and now seems to be plateauing. The word metrosexual itself turns 21 years old this month; it’s too early to predict whether its successor will last as long.

on fleek, adjectival phrase

Extremely good, attractive, or stylish.

on fleek

On 21 June 2014, a Vine user called ‘Peaches Monroee’— the online pseudonym of a young American woman named Kayla Newman from the Chicago area—uploaded a video in which she approvingly described her eyebrows as on fleek. Her video went viral and so did the phrase, surging on social media and making its way into the lyrics of songs by the likes of Nicki Minaj. It showed up on Oxford’s monitor corpus for the first time in October 2014, and peaked there just a few months later, in January 2015. That type of steep rise is often followed by a precipitous fall, as a novel slang word loses cachet and is abandoned, but on fleek has continued to register relatively steady use this year, suggesting that English speakers are not yet ready to let it go.

refugee, noun

A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

refugee

The crisis of displaced people around the globe has been one of the biggest news stories of 2015. Oxford’s language monitoring corpus has shown the word refugee increasing by 110% and migrant by 158% this year, compared with the same period in 2014, and considerable attention has been focused on the important distinctions in meaning between the two terms: a refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster, whereas a migrantis a person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions. At a time when heightened rhetoric about immigration coexists with a severe humanitarian crisis, the choice of words by politicians or journalists when referring to displaced people can have serious consequences.

sharing economy, noun

An economic system in which assets or services are shared between private individuals, either for free or for a fee, typically by means of the Internet.

sharing economy

The Internet has facilitated a number of services which are collectively known as the sharing economy, whereby assets or services are shared between private individuals, either for free or for a fee. Usage of the term has grown steadily, but there is controversy about its meaning, with questions growing about whether this ‘sharing’ is sometimes simply a method by which corporations avoid officially hiring employees. Some see the so-called sharing economy as being responsible for the advent of a ‘gig economy’, in which people make ends meet by arranging freelance work over the Internet rather than working in traditional full-time jobs (either voluntarily, or because no other work is available).

they (singular), pronoun

Used to refer to a person of unspecified sex.

they

The pronoun they is one of the most common words in English, but it has been thrust into the spotlight recently with reference to people with non-binary gender identities (that is, people who identify as neither male nor female). They has been used with singular antecedents of an unknown or unspecified gender (as in “everyone does their best”) for centuries: the Oxford English Dictionary records it from as early as 1375. Although the usage is sometimes criticized, many publications accept it as an alternative to the cumbersome formula ‘he or she’ or the generic use of masculine pronouns, which is now often regarded as sexist. The extension of epicene they to refer to specific individuals (as in, ‘Alex is bringing their laptop’) is a more recent development. Like the gender-neutral honorific Mx, singular they is preferred by some individuals who identify as neither male nor female, and media outlets and other public institutions are increasingly respecting  such preferences by referring to people as they wish to be identified. Dozens of epicene pronouns have been proposed through the years, including ne, ze, shi, and co, but while it is possible that one or more of them will someday achieve widespread acceptance, at the moment singular they has the upper hand.

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