Polonius Reviews The OED 2016 Word of the Year

I’m sure that you, too, were waiting up all night, obsessively clicking the “Refresh” button on your browser as you waited for the great unveiling of The Oxford English Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016). In keeping with tradition, my dearest acquaintances and I (engaging in jolly, but safe revelry of the healthiest kind, to be sure) completed our predictions and placed our bets on a grid of 64 squares. Hilarity ensued, as you might imagine.

Vernon, thinking it was 2003, put $35 down on “metrosexual.” Professor Strohmeiller bet on some Danish word (“hygge”) that never had a chance. And despite her fetching appearance and lovely personality, Olivia Monmouth remained a verbal ignoramus, choosing to place all of her money on the word “integrity,” declaiming fervently and confidently that in our current political climate, it has become the most necessary word of all, and therefore should be the word of the year.

Of course, it doesn’t work like that.

My inaccurate vision of the OED 

My inaccurate vision of the OED 

How a Word is Nominated for WOY

How does it work, then, you may ask. Well, according to my uninformed imagination, the way it works is that the old guys over at OED all get together and drink too much port and then they start guffawing and pontificating and snorting and making all other sorts of overly-educated sounds until one of them slips up and utters a non-canonical term. Maybe it turns out to be “LOL” or “Brexiteer” or “finna” or “adulting.” The room falls silent, for the moment of fate has arisen. The gaggle of lexicographers and linguists must make a decision, and they must make it quickly. They must either kill the offending member in a ritual sacrifice to the spirit of Samuel Johnson, or they must save him by naming his utterance the official Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Year.

Van Gogh knew the importance of indigo

Van Gogh knew the importance of indigo

If I was in charge of picking the Word of the Year, it would be “Indigo.” I like the unexpected nature of the choice. No one would see it coming. See, I would use the award to encourage a beleaguered workaday word, not legitimize a new one. “Indigo” isn’t so rare that people would see it as a novelty, but it isn’t so common either. It’s just one of the millions of words we take for granted every day, and that’s why I’d like to honor it. It’s a kind of working class member of the lexicon.

Post-truth a Big Winner

But the word they chose was “Post-truth,” defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Timely, to be sure, but will it stand the test of decades? Shouldn’t the honor of Word of the Year fall to a term that has a chance at a long and active life in our language? Call me a naïve optimist, but I’m hoping for a pendular swing back to the side of plain old “truth” or even “pre-truth,” which I just made up, but should be a term that means “An honest acknowledgement that, although I’ve got hunch, I really don’t know the truth and I’m willing to hear evidence on the matter so that I can make an informed decision.” I mean, if we’re already at “post-truth,” what comes next? Will the 2021 Word of the Year be “Blerg,” defined as “Hey, look at that camel!”

Anyway, we seem to be determined to stick ourselves with undesirable fates. “Post-truth” is the victor, and until we find a method of impeaching words, we’re stuck with it. That gives me an idea. Next year, I’m putting my money on “Wordpeachment.”