Over the last few months, we’ve looked at the “word of the year” phenomenon twice, examining its origins and looking at WOTYs from 2018 through 2021. With the end of 2022, let’s look back at the words of this most recent year as selected by the folks at various dictionaries and societies. It’s a list, cautions euronews.com, whose entries “have been dominated by grim world events.”

While the American Dialect Society was the first organization to select an English Word of the Year in 1990, its members have yet to decide on one for the past 12 months. Members of the society’s New Words Committee will be casting their final votes for that highly anticipated word just a little too late on Friday evening to make our deadline.

It’s interesting to note that the ADS committee’s definition of “word” is “broadly defined to include multiword phrases, compounds, and idiomatic expressions that behave like single lexical items.”

In Germany, where the whole WOTY thing started in 1971, a jury at the country’s Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (German Language Society) chose “Zeitenwende” (“sea change” or “era change”) as its 2022 “Wort des Jahres.” The word’s selection came after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “A sea change in the history of our continent,” and because it accurately reflected life in Germany during the past year.

In Japan, the kanji character selected by a public vote for word of the year was the character for “war.” Its selection was based on the war in Ukraine and the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Kanji is a system of Japanese writing using Chinese characters.)

“Permacrisis” (an extended period of instability and insecurity) was the word that the folks at Collins Dictionary settled on as best representing the past year. “Partygate” (the goings-on by former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ilk during the COVID-19 lockdown), “Kyiv” and “quiet quitting” were some of the other words being considered by Collins.


The lexicographers at Cambridge Dictionary thought that “homer” should be their word of the year after British lookups for the word spiked in early May when it appeared as a solution to the daily Wordle game. The word did not refer to the proper name of the Greek author or to the American cartoon character (whose frequent exclamation of “d’oh” appears in the script as “annoyed grunt”).

In this case “homer” referred to a home run in American baseball (also called dinger, tater, round tripper, moonshot, touch ‘em all, etc.) British hackles were also raised last year when the solutions to the popular New York Times Wordle puzzle were “humor” instead of “humour” and “favor” as opposed to the proper British spelling “favour.” On the other hand, many of us on this side of the pond were left scratching our heads over the late-February solution of “bloke” (a man).

The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary decided that “goblin mode” was WOTY and reflected the mood of many individuals who refused to return to a normal way of life following COVID-19 restrictions and continue to engage in behavior that is considered self-indulgent, lazy or greedy.

And Dictionary.com went with “woman,” which is normally defined as “an adult female person,” but in the past year represented “how the intersection of gender, identity and language dominates the current cultural conversation.”

Merriam-Webster chose “gaslight” as its word of the year based on a 1,740% increase in lookups for the word in 2022 and “the vast increase in channels and technologies used to mislead.” Originally meaning an extended period of psychological manipulation that “causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts (or) perception of reality,” “gaslight” now usually refers to “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone.”

The rest of M-W’s top words of the year were: Omicron, oligarch, codify, LGBTQIA, sentient, raid, queen consort, and loamy. (Meaning “consisting of loam,” the word was one of the solutions in the Aug. 29 edition of the online Wordle-like game Quordle.)

But not everyone is enamored with some of the above selections for words of the year. Found on the 2023 edition of Lake Superior State’s “Banished Words List” — to which people nominate words they feel should be stricken from general use due to their “misuse, overuse and uselessness” — are some words that might look familiar.

The top pick is the acronym “G.O.A.T,” which, interestingly, the list’s editors define as an “indiscriminate flaunt” and “inflection point” (“a mathematical term that has lost its original meaning”). Other not-so-favorite words on the list: “quiet quitting” and “gaslighting.”

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 jlwitherell19@gmail.com.

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