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Sunday, January 29, 2023

May we have a word?

Durban – “Raise your words, not voice…” is a quote often attributed to Sufi mystic, Jalal u’ Din Rumi.

This year for the first time, Oxford University Press (OUP) is allowing the public to do that by helping them choose the Oxford Word of the Year.

A long-standing tradition, at the end of every year OUP’s lexicographers narrow down the words they feel best characterise the preceding months.

Oxford Languages president Casper Grathwohl said: “We’re coming to the end of yet another difficult year, one dominated by stark headlines and struggling communities ‒ and we were witness to many responses to this, among which were passionate and hopeful displays of activism and intervention.”

Against this challenging backdrop, Grathwohl said, the world had embarked on a new post-Covid era, once again spending time with friends and family, gathering for events, and heading back into offices and workplaces.

“Over the past year the world reopened, and it is in that spirit we’re opening up the selection process for the Word of the Year to language lovers everywhere,” he said.

Last year the winning word was “vax” which OUP described as “a relatively rare word in its corpus” but which by September 2021 had been used over 72 times more frequently than at the same time the previous year. On its website it says “vax” also spawned a list of derivatives which are now used in a wide range of informal contexts, from vax sites and vax cards to getting vaxxed and being fully vaxxed.

In 2022 lexicographers scanned the year’s language usage contained in OUP’s 19 billion-word corpus of spoken and written language data.

They paid particular attention to words that had grown in popularity, as well as new words or expressions that had been added to the language (neologisms).

After an exhaustive process, they narrowed it down to three words, each of which experienced a dramatic spike in usage and captured one of the significant preoccupations of the year.

The three candidates for Word of the Year and their meanings are:

goblin mode n.

Slang. A type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations; frequently “in goblin mode” or to “go goblin mode”.


Used on social media posts to express solidarity with a specified cause, group, person, etc.

metaverse n.

A (hypothetical) virtual reality environment in which users interact with one another’s avatars and their surroundings in an immersive way, sometimes posited as a potential extension of or replacement for the internet, World Wide Web, social media, etc.

OUP’s lexicographers said 2022 had been marked by reunion, reconnection, and reopening, as well as by activism resulting from economic, social and political change.

The shortlisted words were revealed last week and debated by a panel of experts.

The panel reviewed the evidence and debated the merits of choices and how each finalist had captured the mood and ethos of the last year in its own way, said OUP.

The public has a few more days to cast their vote before the winner is announced next week. The question is will it be #Teammetaverse, #TeamGoblinMode, or #TeamIStandWith?

Voting for your favourite word can be done across OUP’s social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn) and on its website at http://www.oxfordwordoftheyear.com

  • Oxford University Press (OUP) is a department of the University of Oxford.

The Independent on Saturday

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