Friday, November 25, 2016

Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year is a Lie

The Oxford Dictionaries, makers of one of the world's heaviest dictionary (137.72 pounds), has released its word of the year, as well as the other words that made their shortlist, for the annual recognition. These are the words that "had an impact on 2016, for better or worse," said the dictionary's website. "(They) reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the past twelve months."

The 2016 word of the year is "post-truth," which the Oxford Dictionaries defines as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

In other words, people choose to believe opinion and emotion more than actual science, evidence, and their own senses.

Like the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

While the idea of post-truth has always been around, it's only in the last 12 months that we've really seen it surge. If you have a basic working knowledge of American politics, you know that's true.

Well, you believe it to be true, based on actual observations and science, but could be convinced otherwise.

Now, in a post-truth world, mainstream media sources like The New York Times, Washington Post, and the network news carry as much weight as the National Enquirer, your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, and "some guy I know who read about this online." It's a sad day when a large majority of people decide to ignore two newspapers of record and three decades-old news programs in favor of PatriotInMomsBasement.com.

So thanks to the presidential campaign, as well as the British "Brexit" vote, for bringing about this post-truth world.

Speaking of Brexit, that term made the short list after British nationalism, racism, and Islamophobia won out in that country. Brexit politicians manipulated their own post-truth rhetoric and played on the emotions of their voters, who "demanded their country back."

Immediately following the vote, many British "leavers" expressed their shock and surprise at the vote. They said theirs was a protest vote, and they thought Brexit supporters were just some strident fringe element, and that sanity and normalcy would prevail. They didn't realize their protest vote would have such a dramatic effect on the future of their nation.

Now these Bridiots are bregretting their vote and bremoaning their fate. Looks like they're going to have to be adults and live with their bristake.

Speaking of which, "adulting" made the short list as well. It's defined as the "informal the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks."

The term is used by new adults who aren't big fans of their new responsibilities, like doing their own laundry, paying bills, or going grocery shopping and not loading up on Cap'n Crunch.

Don't feel bad. I've been doing those things for almost 30 years, and I still don't like it.

Another word on the short list is "coulrophobia", even though it's an older word, dating back to the 1980s, when Stephen King wrote his clown horror story, It.

The Oxford Dictionaries says coulrophobia is "an extreme or irrational fear of clowns."

First of all, it's not extreme or irrational. It's an extremely rational, acceptable, and well-deserved fear. If a bunch of miscreants want to dress as creepy clowns to frighten normal, decent people, it is not irrational to chase those creepy clowns into the woods with a machete or Lord Humungus' car from The Road Warrior.

But my favorite word on the shortlist is "hygge," a Danish word that means "a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being."

The word is pronounced HYOO-guh, as in "hue," or HOOG-uh as in "sugar," and it's grown in popularity here in the United States, as well as the UK, in response to the bitterness surrounding our political campaigns. It's also different from "yuge," which is apparently some kind of New York word that means "bigly."

Hygge is not the only untranslatable word to enter the English language. The German word "schadenfreude," which means the enjoyment we get at someone else's misfortune, is another one.

But after all the screaming and finger pointing has died down, and everyone has settled into their homes for the holidays, I hope you have your own hygge, free of politics and Facebook, with friends and family who truly care about you.

So put on a sweater, light your candles, and get yourself a nice big bowl of Cap'n Crunch. We're done adulting for a few days.


In the original version of this piece, I referred to Oxford Dictionaries as "the Oxford English Dictionary." This is incorrect. Oxford Dictionaries is run by a different team with different editors, data, etc. Hat tip to Grant Barrett of A Way With Words, the premier language and grammar radio show on NPR for catching that error.


Photo credit: Nightscream (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)


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1 comment:

  1. Patriotinmomsbasement.com does not measure up to smalltownguymakingabuckinslovenia.com. Just my opinion, but hey I got a digital subscription to the post and times to compensate for all that post truth in my facebook feed. Well, I'm off to adult.

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