One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Word of the Year 2017: the shortlist
Youthquake has been crowned Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2017, but this is by no means the only word that caught our attention over the last twelve months.
The following eight terms made it onto our Word of the Year shortlist as reflective of some aspect of this eventful year:
[noun; treated as singular or plural] a political protest movement comprising autonomous groups affiliated by their militant opposition to fascism and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology
The term Antifa has emerged from relative obscurity to become an established part of the English lexicon over the course of 2017, with media attention to the controversial brand of radical leftism now a regular feature in reports on activism across the political spectrum.
The US in particular has been a crucible for the rise of this word and associated politics, with reportedly over 200 independent groups now active across the country, united by a drive to oppose fascism through direct action – though interpretations of this mission statement vary drastically.
According to our corpus data, usage of Antifa was at a high in August this year in discussions of the demonstrations against the white nationalist ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, both in self-identification and as a pejorative descriptor.
While unquestionably associated with 2017, the term Antifa actually has a much longer historical arc. Antifa is a German loanword, a borrowed abbreviation of Antifaschistische Aktion (Anti-fascist Action), the militant anti-fascist network established in Germany in the years preceding the Second World War.
Initially surfacing in the punk-rock scene of the 1970s, today’s self-described Antifa groups share no direct organizational lineage with the early-twentieth-century movement, but have adopted some of its tactics and stylings – such as the all-black accoutrement of the ‘Black Bloc’ as first seen in the Netherlands – in a bid to link and legitimize its political activities.
Senior assistant editor Jeff Sherwood offers a closer analysis of the origins, pronunciation, and contemporary complexities of the term: Antifa: a word on the rise.
[derogatory, informal] a man who is readily upset or offended by progressive attitudes that conflict with his more conventional or conservative views
The word broflake combines two prominent trends of twenty-first century lexical innovation: the appropriation and subversion of terminology from one’s political opponents, and the popularity of compounds and blends with man- and bro- to refer to male behaviour and characteristics.
Broflake is undoubtedly a word of 2017, having grown out of 2016’s go-to political slur snowflake, an insult initially used in the early noughties by critics of the supposedly less-resilient millennial generation before being commandeered by right-wing individuals to attack liberal sensitivities, such as in debate around ‘safe spaces’.
By taking the –flake from snowflake and adding the now formulaic bro- blend, the knife was turned upon its wielder as his own sensitivities were placed in the spotlight.
Hostility towards women-only screenings of Wonder Woman, horror over NFL player Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Elliott’s nude ESPN cover, and anger at the casting of a female Doctor in the British TV series Doctor Who, are just a few of the many examples we have seen called out as broflake behaviour this year.
And its usage has not been confined to the English-speaking world, but our data indicates that the term is now being used in other languages on social media, with Spanish and Italian being particular examples.
Senior assistant editor Rebecca Juganaru explored the development of the term earlier this year: On the radar: broflake.
[noun] a style of dress incorporating utilitarian clothing of a type worn for outdoor activities
Writing in The Cut in May this year, Jason Chen introduced the world to the term gorpcore to describe the ‘defiantly ugly’ trend already popular among the fashion-forward. From woolly fleeces to bumbags to puffer jackets to socks and velcro sandals, utility became the name of the game and was to be borne with un-ironic panache.
Gorpcore is the younger cousin of another recent neologism, normcore, which featured on our Word of the Year Shortlist 2014, and has been hailed as its successor by everyone from Vogue to New York Magazine. Both of these fashion terms incorporate the long-standing –core suffix, as seen in hardcore, while the gorp- in gorpcore is taken from the American word for ‘trail mix’, which is typically comprised of granola, oats, raisins, and peanuts – sometimes known colloquially as ‘Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts’.
A fun feature of 2017, gorpcore is not yet well established enough to be included in our dictionaries, but the term’s rapid rise to fashion fame over the summer secured its place on our shortlist.
[mass noun] compromising information collected for use in blackmailing, discrediting, or manipulating someone, typically for political purposes
While attested in English since the 1990s, the vast majority of English speakers were unaware of kompromat and its devastating potential until 11 January this year.
It was on that day that new media site Buzzfeed controversially published a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer, which alleged that the Russian state held compromising information about soon-to-be-President of the United States, Donald Trump. The ensuing media furore catapulted kompromat into the public eye, and debate as to the existence and substance of such materials on the now-President and other high profile figures has remained a recurring topic ever since.
The word kompromat has had a curious journey into the English lexicon, and is described as a sort of ‘boomerang loanword’: borrowed into English, kompromat is derived from a blended abbreviation of the Russian komprometirujuščij material, meaning ‘compromising material’, a phrase that was initially borrowed from English.
Senior assistant editor Jeff Sherwood took a look at the term’s evolution earlier this year: Kompromat and 8 other Russian-derived words you didn’t think you’d need to know.
a person or thing that initially inspires delight on social media but is soon revealed to have a distasteful or repugnant past
On 12 June 2016, Twitter user Pixelated Boat published a tweet that would, one year down the line, contribute the neologism for an increasingly common Internet phenomenon.
The story of the proverbial Milkshake Duck is one we see all too often: plucky unknown captures the hearts of the World Wide Web, only for it to be discovered that said plucky unknown has been involved in murky – or outright inflammatory – doings.
Why did Milkshake Duck rise to prominence a whole year after its creation? While intermittently seen in 2016, usage of the term spiked in June 2017 when it was frequently used in reference to a game developer whose new video game was attracting praise from the critics and the public alike, until a series of anti-feminist tweets in connection with the game were unearthed earning a rapid backlash from many former fans.
Milkshake Duck is very much a word of 2017, and while we’ve not yet seen enough evidence of its longevity and widespread usage to warrant inclusion in our dictionaries, if use of the neologism continues to grow it could well be a candidate in the future.
Senior assistant editor Rebecca Juganaru analysed the term’s staying-power earlier this year: On the radar: Milkshake Duck.
[mass noun; marketing ] the practice of taking advantage of current events or news stories in such a way as to promote or advertise one's product or brand
In the space of a few short years, newsjacking has gone from an experimental technique to a staple in every social media-savvy marketing department’s arsenal. Brands from across industry sectors fully embraced the strategy this year, increasingly taking advantage of current events to not only push their brand into the public consciousness, but to align themselves with certain ethical or moral positions.
While we’ve seen attempts of varying success, the stand-out examples of 2017 include global athletic apparel company Reebok’s response to President Trump’s comments about Brigitte Macron in July, and British optical retailer Specsavers’ reaction to the Oscars Best Picture mix-up in January.
Blending ‘news’ and ‘hijacking’, the word itself dates back to the 1970s with reference to the theft of newspapers in order to sell them to scrap dealers. Its contemporary iteration, however, dates from the early twenty-first century, as first popularized by marketing and sales strategist David Meerman Scott’s 2011 book, Newsjacking: How to inject your ideas into a breaking news story and generate tons of media coverage.
denoting something, especially an item of food or drink, that is dyed in rainbow colours, decorated with glitter, etc.
The word unicorn has seen yet another sense developing after the trend for all things rainbow-coloured and glittery crossed into the mainstream this year.
Originally seen on the world’s Instagram feeds, the new unicorn styling hit the big time when high-profile brands, such as Starbucks and Selfridges, began to develop and promote exclusive products tapping into a consumer desire to escape the drudgery of day-to-day life for the stand-out, shiny, or just plain sweet.
While no longer only used in reference to the mythical animal or a start-up tech firm valued at more than a billion dollars, data gathered by our editors shows this year’s sense of unicorn to be a popular but likely ephemeral feature of the English vocabulary once the trend has been consigned to legend.
[mass noun] discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice
White fragility was coined in an article of the same name by Dr Robin DiAngelo in 2011, but it wasn’t until more recently that the term has been found in mainstream media sources.
In the US in particular, there has been a growing national discussion about race and racism, and about the role that white identity plays in the political dynamics of the country. DiAngelo’s coinage has been increasingly heard in such debates this year, with media commentary around the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, for example, showing a high usage concentration.
Evidence for the usage of white fragility has also been particularly strong in university settings. One newsworthy example of this occurred in Canada, when a student from Dalhousie University was the subject of a formal complaint after she criticized the country’s sesquicentennial celebrations on Facebook as an example of white fragility.
Nicole Holliday, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Pomona College, discusses how white fragility goes beyond arguments of cultural sensitivity to aid understanding of the enduring legacy of racism in our everyday lives: What is ‘white fragility’?
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