Every year, the Oxford English Dictionary chooses one word which it think best sums up the mood of the day. Last year, the winner was the unusual but jolly ‘crying laughing emoji.’ In 2016, after the most turbulent political and social 12 months in living memory, it was unlikely to be anything so cheerful.
So what have the bods over at the OED gone for this year? ‘Post-truth.’
The dictionary has defined the word as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. And on reading that, there’s little doubt that those 9 little letters sum up 2016 pretty neatly.
‘Post-truth’ beat other political terms — including ‘alt-right’ and ‘Brexiteer’ — to the top spot, which the body says “reflects the passing year in language”.
The term was first used in around 1992, when political commentators began using it to describe the state of affairs leading up to the first Gulf War. This year, however, its usage has spiked more than 2000%.
The word was the focus of the recent Adam Curtis documentary on the BBC, HyperNormalisation. It was also used extensively in the press and media in reference to Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, and Michael Gove’s winning Brexit bid, and later in the coverage of Donald Trump’s run for President.
Usually, the dictionary chooses two separate words for the UK and the US. But this year they felt things were better summed up in combination. ‘What we found especially interesting is that [post-truth] encapsulated a trans-Atlantic phenomenon’ said Katherine Connor Martin, the head of United States dictionaries at Oxford University Press.
“Often, when looking at words, you’ll find one that’s a really big deal in the UK but not in the US.”
Adam Curtis’ HyperNormalisation described how, in the ‘post-truth’ world, we have “retreated into a simplified and often completely fake version of the world”. Let’s hope the word for 2017 is slightly more cheerful…