#DHRecaps | 'Word of the Year’/ #WOTYs as #2019Goals?

#DHRecaps | 'Word of the Year’/ #WOTYs as #2019Goals?

The reviews are in and it’s not looking pretty for 2018.

Here’s what some of the leading wordsmiths and lexicographers have said:

Oxford Dictionary calls it ‘Toxic’.

Collins Dictionary calls it ‘Single Use’.

Japan’s people unanimously called it a “Disaster”

Dictionary.com says ‘Misinformation’.

Merriam Webster just said ‘Justice’

The reviews are actually the ‘Word(s) of the Year’ or ‘WOTY(s)’.

What’s a WOTY?, you might be wondering, so for the uninitiated, a WOTY is described by one of its curators (Oxford Dictionary) as “a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”

Dictionary.com explains it as “ a symbol of each year’s most meaningful events and lookup trends. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on the language and ideas that represented each year.”

This year’s themes explored by these WOTYs are representative of contemporary global discussions, such as confronting ‘toxic’ masculinity in the wake of the #MeToo movement and ranging to fighting misinformation and fake news and even protecting the environment.

Some of last year’s WOTYs are also indicative of similar political themes, i.e., Merriam Webster Dictionary: Feminism, Oxford Dictionary: Youthquake, Dictionary.com: Populism, Collins Dictionary: Fake News. 

It is no wonder that many of these themes and ideas, that are indicative of the global zeitgeist, dominated much of the past year’s news cycles. Dictionaries have highlighted some of these events:

Misinformation - Dictionary.com

The revelation that Cambridge Analytica had harvested personal data on Facebook to create in-depth psychological profiles of individuals, which were used to influence the Brexit vote and the US election.

Detection of fake political ads across Facebook.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s stance that Holocaust denial posts do not breach Facebook’s code of conduct.

Lack of content moderation across languages on Facebook and WhatsApp that contributed to the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

Twitter cracked down on millions of bots spreading misinformation.

Several tech platforms, including Apple, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, banned the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and in September Reddit shut down the main subreddit dedicated to discussing the QAnon conspiracy theory; it had over 70,000 subscribers at that point.

A collaborative investigation looked at viral political images circulated on WhatsApp leading up to the Brazilian presidential election and found that 56% of these images were misleading either because they were completely false, they contained images or data used out of context, they had unsubstantiated claims, or they weren’t from a trustworthy source.

A study found that the same troll and bot accounts that attempted to influence the US election had also been sharing false information about vaccines on Twitter.

Single Use - Collins Dictionary



“Selected as the #CollinsWOTY 2018, single-use encompasses a global movement to kick our addiction to disposable products. From plastic bags, bottles and straws to washable nappies, we have become more conscious of how our habits and behaviours can impact the environment.

Collins’ records “show a four-fold increase in usage of this word since 2013, with news stories and the likes of the BBC’s Blue Planet II raising public awareness of this environmental issue.”

In November, a report released by the UN warned that Climate Change seriously threatens the security of our civilisation and it may already be too late to reverse its effects.

Oxford Dictionary - ‘Toxic’

Data showed a 45% rise in searches on oxforddictionaries.com over the last year and was used as the main descriptor by a lot of people for the year’s most talked about topics.

News events from 2018 mentioned include:

  • The nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter in Britain and rising concern over who has access to the world’s toxic chemical stockpiles.
  • Similarly literal and deadly are toxic substances, toxic gas, and toxic waste. The burning of toxic waste, resulting in the release of toxic gases, has been identified as one of a number of causes of toxic air and is a major cause of concern in India. Air pollution has rapidly become a prime public health concern, and global attention reached a high in October 2018 when the World Health Organization published its report into the quality of air breathed by children worldwide.
  • The term toxic environment has been more frequently used in reference to harmful workplace environments and the toll this takes on the workforce’s mental health. From overly demanding workloads to outright sexual harassment, many companies have been  exposed as crucibles for such toxic culture this year, which has seen mass walkouts at Google, the fashion mogul Philip Green  disgraced, and the Speaker of the House of Commons accused of misusing his official powers to cover up allegations of bullying in  Westminster.
  • Toxic relationships are not exclusive to the workplace, however, and whether its partners, parents, or even politicians, this year has seen so much discussion of ‘poisonous’ relationships across our society that ‘relationship’ is the sixth most-seen toxic topic for 2018. One recurring element in such discussions has been toxic masculinity.
  • Data shows that, after ‘chemical’, ‘masculinity’ is the most-used word in conjunction with toxic this year. With the #MeToo movement putting a cross-industry spotlight on toxic masculinity, and watershed political events like the Brett Kavanaugh Senate judiciary committee hearing sparking international debate, the term toxic masculinity has well and truly taken root in the public consciousness and got people talking in 2018.

Japanese character 災 for ‘Disaster’

The kanji sai (災, disaster) was picked as the Chinese character best describing this year’s social mood in Japan and to raise public awareness on the importance of disaster prevention measures.

The selection came after hundreds of thousands of residents of Japan were affected by a series of disasters this year, including torrential rains in the country’s west and a large earthquake in Hokkaido.

Merriam Webster: Justice

‘Justice’ was a top lookup throughout the year at Merriam-Webster.com, with the entry being consulted 74% more than in 2017 used in a variety of different contexts such as racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice.

WOTYs in India

Events and happenings of the past year show that the WOTYs (Toxic & Misinformation) and their relation to the Indian experience is arguably a microcosm of the global situation.

For instance, here are some examples of words that are gaining traction on social media in India which are emblematic of the toxic culture and vitriol that is omnipresent today:

  • Urban Naxal: Coined to broadly label someone as an enemy of the state.
  • Presstitute:  An offensive slang term (combination of Press and Prostitute) used to accuse journalists or publishers of biases. The term implies that the press is like prostitutes and is bought over by big corporations or political parties.   
  • Libtard: A pejorative (combination of Liberal and Retard) word for a person with left-wing political views.
  • Jholawala: A hippie communist. The term comes from two Hindi words, "Jhola" which is the Hindi word for a particular type of sling bag and "wala" which is the Hindi word for "person", therefore the term actually means "Sling bag (bearing) person"
  • Sickular: Used to label someone a hypocritical for expressing secular ideas or concerns.

In December of last year, a book written by Swati Chaturvedi titled ‘I am a Troll’, claimed that the ruling government (BJP) has ordered online attacks and trolling of its opponents.

Earlier this year in March, investigative news agency Cobrapost released its report on its sting titled ‘Operation 136’ which revealed that that 17 media outlets in India are ready to run pro-Hindutva stories ahead of the 2019 Parliamentary elections.

In June and July, it was revealed that fake and morphed Whatsapp messages and hoaxes on child-kidnappings which caused panic, fear and hysteria around the country led to a spate of mob lynchings leading to more than 20 deaths, prompting the government and the tech giant to take technical steps to address the issue.

On August 28, the government created a stir by arresting activists and scholars such as radical poet Varavar Rao in Hyderabad, civil rights activist, intellectual, and author Anand Teltumbde in Goa, national secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad, lawyer and human rights activists Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves in Mumbai, former PUCL secretary Gautam Navlakha in Delhi, and tribal rights activist Stan Swamy in Ranchi. The activists were branded “Urban Naxals’ on social media and even by some propagandist news channels.

As #MeToo movement hit India for a second time in September this year, conversations around the country were engaged in confronting ‘toxic masculinity’ and calling out harassers.

In November, the Hindu right wingers experienced a meltdown when a photo featuring Twitter founder Jack Dorsey posing with a sign saying #SmashBrahmanicalPatriarchy went viral on social media.  

But it’s not all doom and gloom. In India and around the world, these moments were opportunities for people to resist polarization and hate.

For instance, the hashtag #IamAnUrbanNaxal began trending in support of and in solidarity with the arrested activists. Soon after, on the first death anniversary of slain journalist Gauri Lankesh, activists from around the country assembled in Bengaluru to pay homage to her memory and to denounce the attacks on activists around the country.

Several fact-checking news initiatives such as Alt-News and BOOM Fact check and others have been actively fighting fake news and propaganda in India.

The women’s march may not have been as big in India but the arrival of the #MeToo movement in India more than made up for it. Similarly, student activism reached another peak with the ‘Pinjra Tod’ (Break the cage) movement taking strides for women mobility, security and rights on student campuses.

Activists such as Paromita Vohra and many others have also been engaged in projects that aim to dispel gender stereotypes and open up taboo conversations around sexuality. The decriminalisation of homosexuality and the subsequent pride marches were also heartening displays of compassion and solidarity.   

In the US, several students who survived the Parkland school shooting in February that killed 17 people were instrumental in leading the conversation around gun control.

To conclude, WOTYs can be an inspiration for the fights to take on in 2019. The idea can ‘gammon’ some but don’t despair, instead, speak out and inform others and hopefully together, our collective ‘youthquakes’ can detoxify the culture around us.


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