A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about various dictionaries’ Words of the Year for 2020 and 2021. The problem is I had intended to write about several years’ worth of WOTYs, but got sidetracked by all of the COVID-inspired words the folks at the Oxford Dictionary threw at us for 2020.

Now I intend to finish the job — kind of like when Mrs. Word Guy asks me when I’m going to do that project I’ve been putting off, and I assure her that I will get to it and that I don’t need to be reminded every six months. So, without further ado, here are the words of the year from 2018 and 2019, which are mostly still relevant. Mostly.

Let’s start with the disparate words that lexicographers chose to represent the freewheeling year of 2018. The Oxford Dictionary made “toxic” their word of the year. It comes from the Latin “poisoned” or “imbued with poison.”

Merriam-Webster found the noun “justice” the right word to represent the year. It’s defined as “the maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.”

The editors of Dictionary.com decided on “misinformation,” or “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” (Disinformation, on the other hand, is defined as “misinformation that is intentionally spread.”)

The American Dialect Society selected “tender-age shelter”  (also “tender-age facility” or “tender-age camp”), which is a euphemism for the government-run detention centers that have housed the children of asylum seekers at the U.S./Mexico border. (In a companion vote the American Dialect Society’s sibling organization, the American Name Society, voted “Jamal Khashoggi,” the murdered Saudi journalist, as its name of the year for 2018.)


Two other dictionaries, Collins and Cambridge, chose words that commented on consumerism, going respectively with “single-use,” which “encompasses a global movement to kick our addiction to disposable products,” and “nomophobia,” or “a fear or worry at the idea of being without your mobile phone or being unable to use it.”

In 2019 the lexicographers showed their preference for personal pronouns and words related to the environment. Merriam-Webster went with “they,” which in this case pertained to the use of the pronoun as it refers to a single person whose gender is intentionally not revealed or whose gender identity is nonbinary.

The American Dialect Society selected “(my) pronouns” because of “its use as an introduction for sharing one’s set of personal pronouns.” The group also chose its 2015 word of the year, “they,” as its 2010–2019 word of the decade.

Oxford Dictionary selected “climate emergency,” which is defined as “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.”

Similarly, Collins went with “climate strike,” or the activity of “leaving work to demand action against climate change,” while the folks at Cambridge Dictionary decided on “upcycle,” which it says is “the activity of making new items out of old or used things.”

Dictionary.com sort of summed up the whole situation, picking as its word of the year “existential” because it “captures a sense of grappling with the survival – literally and figuratively – of our planet, our loved ones, our ways of life.”

If you want me to write about more words of the year, remind me in six months.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at [email protected]

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