It’s only words, and words are all they have, to take your attention away (from cat videos; for like a minute).
That is the inaccurate phrasing of the classic Bee Gee’s single, perpetuated by pop collectiveBoyzone, namely, Words. And words are all that dictionaries (whether online or now online-d) have to remind you that they contribute to everything from settling spelling bees to solving Scrabble squabbles to Googling your particular ailment of the day, month, or year. And like with timescales, there are a lot of different word scenarios.
This is why every word repository worth its noun, er, Salt, chooses and publishes a Word Of The Year (WOTY) in December to remind us what the world was talking about, and to remind us that these publishers exist.
They choose words of the year even, just to remind you that they still matter. If Pantone, a company that began in 1962 can select a colour of the year, for many years now, how could dictionaries be left behind? How else are we going to spell the word colour for instance?
In comparison, the Oxford English Dictionary is a 140-year-old “living document”, while the first print edition of the Merriam-Webster came out in 1828.
Meanwhile, Dictionary.com was started in 1995, and its word for 2019 is existential, which, to be entirely honest, is our favourite. As a characterisation of 2019, it’s positively ‘woke’ (which was the most used word of the year according to the Global Language Monitor).
There are a surfeit of entities that publish their own nominations, but alas dear reader, a newspaper article only has so many words.
The Oxford English Dictionary, that storied publisher and distributor of reams of paper devoted to printing out the spelling and descriptions of words, chose the phrase ‘climate emergency’ as its word of the year. Given that it’s been churning out copies since the near beginning of the industrial era, it makes sense that it chose two words rather than one to mark a year embattled in climate change. Irony may have been a better choice, and used less paper and industrial production.
In a year that people of all ethnicities, sexual identities, religious and or secular beliefs, and nationalities struggled to raise their voices in a chorus of unity, the Merriam-Webster dictionary chose the gender non-binary term, ‘they’, as their word of the year. While it is admittedly meant to highlight the issue of Trans-rights, which has served as such a clarion call for social rights warriors all over, it also simultaneously succeeds in isolating people as a special case. Wasn’t the whole idea of the movement meant to show that they are us and we are them, and
that any apostrophes unnecessary?
It is only fitting that we all seem to be in a crisis by the same name. Even more
illuminatingly, this is the word of the year chosen by a digital entity.
Are we all then at a loss of words?
Oxford English Dictionary: Climate Emergency
Merriam-Webster Dictionary: they
Collins’ Dictionary: Climate strike
Cambridge Dictionary: Upcycling