Oxford Dictionaries Announce Their 2016 Word of the Year: “Post-Truth”

Oxford Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” in 2014 was “vape.” In 2015 it was “emoji.” In 2016 it’s “post-truth.” Which one stands out here? Yeah, that’s where we’re at.

Per the Oxford Dictionary, the decision — and this should come as no great surprise — comes from both the Brexit vote and the recent U.S. Presidential election, and Oxford Dictionaries President Casper Grathwohl said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.’”

The selection process isn’t a mere attempt to relate to the zeitgeist — but rather a display of how immersed in it language or course already is. The word choice sees researchers measuring sudden increases in usages of a word, so as to ensure that it’s an “expression chosen to reflect the passing year in language.” Apparently, the usage of this particular, compound word has increased by 2000 percent since 2015. Researchers were seeing the major boost in frequency of the word in June due to the Brexit vote, and July due to the impending U.S. election.

They specify that the prefix here doesn’t merely mean “after” something — like a war — but rather “after” in an ideological sense, suggesting the word it’s modifying — truth — has been vacated of meaning or importance. This usage of “post,” they say, became common in the middle of the 20th century, with words like “post-national” and “post-racial,” and this word itself has been circulating for over a decade, with the first traced appearance in writing in 1992 in The Nation in an essay by Steve Tesich.

Grathwohl continues to detail its relevance:

Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.

On the Oxford Dictionary’s website, the definition reads, “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Other shortlisted words this year included “adulating,” “alt-right,” “Brexiteer,” “chatbot,” “coulrophobia,” “Latinx,” and “woke.”