2017 Words of the Year

It's Word of the Year (WOTY) season.

First, a quick roundup of some dictionary-appointed WOTYs from 2017 (roughly in the order they were announced):
Collins Dictionary β€” fake news
Dictionary.com β€” complicit (I was part of making this decision/drafting this post)
Cambridge Dictionaries β€” populism
Merriam-Webster β€” feminism
Oxford Dictionaries β€” youthquake

The last group that weighs in on WOTY is the American Dialect Society (ADS), which has been selecting WOTYs since 1990. This vote is made by a room full of linguists, so the words chosen often have an element of linguistic interest to them. Past words have included Because X#BlackLivesMatter, and gender-neutral singular they. The ADS 2017 WOTY vote is being held on January 5, 2018 in Salt Lake City, and it's open to the public. Swing on by if you want to take part in the vote.

For your consideration, here are some words I'm putting forward for the ADS 2017 WOTY. Note that a lot of great nominations have already been made, so I'm going to highlight some "deep cuts" of the year rather than focusing on words that have already been discussed in detail elsewhere.

Political Word of the Year

Crafting as a form of activism. Think the pink pussy hats of the Women's March or the Arthur embroidery, which was made in late 2016.

This has appeared a lot in US news this year in reference to comedians on late-night tv making fun of the Trump administration. This has also introduced another word, Trump bump, which is the increase in ratings that shows like Saturday Night Live, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and Jimmy Kimmel Live have received from their cutting political jokes. Laughtivism has been used for many years, perhaps going back to the early 2000s. The earliest mention I can find from a quick search is from a 2011 article from Yes! magazine, and Srdja Popovic discusses the term in a 2013 TEDx talk.

Stupid Watergate
Over the past year, John Oliver has been calling the Russia Investigation Stupid Watergate because it's β€œa scandal with all the potential ramifications of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything.” This is of interest to a room full of linguists thanks to the fact that we've been using the libfix -gate for years now, and Oliver could have easily called this whole thing Russiagate or Trumpgate (which is exactly what some reporters have been doing). However, the -gate libfix has become somewhat diluted over time, and while it finds its roots in one of the major US political scandals of living memory, these days -gate can be used in reference to non-political mishaps or gaffes. For example, nipplegate refers to what happened during the Superbowl Halftime show in 2004, and twerkgate was when Miley Cyrus attempted twerking at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. Oliver uses Stupid Watergate not only for comedic effect, but also to go back to the origins of the term to evoke the scale of political scandal that could lead to impeachment.

So much has already been written about the following words, I'm just going to list them. If you don't know why some of these words are included here, I encourage you to look them up:
alternative facts
(my thoughts on the word in the Chicago Tribune)
cult of both sides
fake news
(an interview I did with TIME)

Digital Word of the Year

CryptoKitties are collectible and breedable virtual cats that exist on the blockchain technology that powers the cryptocurrency Ethereum. People have been spending (and making) a lot of money on these. On December 29, 2017, San Francisco Chronicle reported that there were 10 CryptoKitties worth over $79,000. CryptoKitties also made the news after Wikileaks gifted two first-generation Wikileaks CryptoKitties (bred from Julian Assange's personal CryptoKitties) to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Because these are valued at several thousands dollars, Trump's Tender Tabby will become federal property to be passed down from president to president.

Most Useful Word of the Year

died by suicide
This alternative to committed suicide was recommended by AP Style in 2017.

Here's the reasoning behind the decision from AP Stylebook editor David Minthorn:

β€œCommitted in that context suggests possibly an illegal act, but in fact, laws against suicide have been repealed in the US, at least in certain states, and many other places, so we’re going to avoid using that term on our own, although it’s a term that authorities widely use and we will use it while quoting authorities.”

I also think died by suicide acknowledges mental health issues in a way that committed suicide doesn't. I was unaware of the phrasing died by suicide before 2017, but I'm in favor of this change and will be using it in my own speech and writing moving forward.

digital blackface
Popular images, GIFs, videos, and words of black people are so often used as lighthearted reactions on social media. The concept of digital blackface takes a step back and asks who is posting these images of black people and why. The word is an important tool in discussing cultural appropriation, and I'm sure we'll see a lot more of it in the coming years. I first learned learned about digital blackface from an August 2017 article in Teen Vogue by Lauren Michele Jackson. Later in the year, Amanda Hess made a great video on the concept of digital blackface (in which she interviews Jackson) for the New York Times.

millennial pink
Millennial pink is a shade of pink that's been popping up everywhere over the last year or so. New York had an extensive piece on this shade in March 2017.

neighbor spoofing
Neighbor spoofing is when a robocall comes from a number with the same area code as you to trick you into answering. This word is near and dear to my heart because I get these calls almost every day. To quote the timeless No Doubt song "Spiderwebs": "No matter matter matter matter who calls / I gotta scree-ee-ee-ee-een my phone calls."

WTF Word of the Year

half jeans/butt jeans/detachable jeans
These are just delightful new jeans styles. Half jeans are one-legged jeans. Butt jeans often refers to jeans with cutouts, zippers, or tears that expose part of the butt. Detachable jeans are jeans that convert into tiny tiny jean shorts (or jorts, if you prefer).  

procrastination nanny
The latest development in attention hacking is the procrastination nanny. A procrastination nanny is a person who moderates a productivity event for a bunch of adults who have been putting off work on various projects for far too long. They come together for a cave day in which motivation and food is provided by the procrastination nanny

Paralinguistic Element of the Year

I nominate the person with headscarf emoji (also called the hijab emoji) for 2017 Emoji of the Year. This emoji was released in Unicode 10.0 in June 2017. I had the opportunity to see the proposer of this emoji, Rayouf Alhumedhi, speak in 2016 at Emojicon (the first-ever emoji conference). Alhumedhi was 15-years-old when she wrote the proposal for πŸ§•. In her talk she said her parents probably thought she was in her bedroom bingewatching tv, while in reality she was researching and writing what would later become a successful emoji proposal. Alhumedhi said that at the time, there was no way for her to represent herself with emoji. She felt she needed to use three emoji to approximate her identity (man wearing turban emoji πŸ‘³πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ, shuffle tracks emoji πŸ”€, and woman emoji πŸ‘©πŸ½). I think this is a great addition to the emoji offerings and I'm glad it made its way to our devices this year.

Image from the hijab emoji proposal by graphic designer Aphee Messer

Image from the hijab emoji proposal by graphic designer Aphee Messer


If you want to learn more about new words, you can read about my nominations for the ADS 2016 WOTY vote.