It’s a fitting ending to one of the most topsy-turvy years in modern history.
“Dumpster fire” has been declared 2016’s Word of the Year.
One word simply wasn’t enough to sum up 2016 for the American Dialect Society, a group of linguists, lexicographers, and grammarians that voted on the award on Friday at its annual conference, held in Austin, Texas, this year.
Loosely defined as “a complete and utter disaster,” “Dumpster fire” could apply to any number of consequential events that took place in 2016 — from a bitterly contested election that upended US politics as we know it, and a cataclysmic Brexit vote that sent shockwaves through Europe, to a series of jarring shootings and terrorist attacks and a seemingly endless list of high-profile celebrity deaths.
The society’s flagship event, once called “the Super Bowl of linguistics,” aims to crown the word or phrase that defined the year and saw widespread or innovative usage. “Dumpster fire” certainly fits the bill, as outlets such as The Daily Beast documented throughout the year.
The term edged out “woke” — an adjective suggesting a high level of social consciousness — in a run-off vote for the title. Coming in third was another word employed by the political left: “Normalize,” meaning “to render normal that which was previously deemed beyond acceptable bounds.”
In the category of “Political Word of the Year,” top honours went to “post-truth” — defined as “belonging to a time in which facts matter less than beliefs or emotions.”
Other nominees in the category included “deplorables” (the infamous moniker Hillary Clinton gave to some Donald Trump supporters), “nasty woman” (what Trump called Clinton during the third presidential debate), “Pantsuit Nation” (the popular Facebook group and hashtag used by Clinton supporters), and “unpresidented” (the erroneous spelling of “unprecedented” Trump used in a post-election tweet.
But politically-charged words creeped into other categories as well. “Gaslight,” a verb meaning to manipulate someone psychologically by causing them to question their own sanity, won the superlative “Most Useful.” The word spiked in usage during the presidential campaign to describe the actions of Republican lawmakers and Trump surrogates, who often contradicted Trump in TV interviews.
Meanwhile, “locker-room banter” took home the dubious honour of “Euphemism of the Year.” The Trump campaign made use of the phrase to dismiss the nominee’s lewd language following the leak of an Access Hollywood tape in October. Coming up short in that category was “alt-right,” a catch-all descriptor for a faction of ultra-conservatives with white nationalist or anti-Semitic ideologies.
In the category of “Digital Word of the Year” the symbol @ — used as a verb, as in “Don’t @ me” — barely edged out “tweetstorm.”
The American Dialect Society has voted on the Word of the Year annually since 1990. Previous winners include “Y2K” in 1999, “metrosexual” in 2003, and the hashtag “occupy” in 2011. Last year’s winner was “they,” which gained traction as a gender-neutral, singular pronoun in 2015.
View all the nominees and winners below (winners in bold):
POLITICAL WORD OF THE YEAR
deplorables (basket of): epithet used by Clinton in speech about Trump supporters
nasty woman: epithet used by Trump addressing Clinton in final presidential debate
Pantsuit Nation: popular Facebook group for Clinton supporters
post-truth: belonging to a time in which facts matter less than beliefs and emotions
unpresidented: erroneous version of unprecedented in a tweet by Trump
DIGITAL WORD OF THE YEAR
fam: one’s crew, squad, circle of friends, etc.
Harambe: gorilla killed at Cincinnati Zoo, launching numerous tributes and memes
tweetstorm: series of connected tweets about a particular subject, often a passionate rant
@: (verb) reply on Twitter using the @ symbol
SLANG WORD OF THE YEAR
fire: (adj.) cool, fun, stylish
receipts: proof (as in “show me the receipts”)
slay: succeed, be excellent or amazing
woke: socially aware or enlightened
MOST USEFUL/LIKELY TO SUCCEED
chip: (verb) insert a bank card into an electronic chip reader (as opposed to swipe)
gaslight: psychologically manipulate a person into questioning their own sanity
normalize: render normal that which was previously deemed beyond acceptable bounds
turn up: get excited, have fun, enjoy oneself
-exit: combining form relating to departure, after Brexit (Calexit, Texit, Brangelexit)
facticide: killing or distortion of factsfacticide: killing or distortion of facts
gynotician: politician seen as interfering with women’s healthcare
laissez-fairydust: magical effect brought upon by laissez-faire economics
EUPHEMISM OF THE YEAR
alt-right: umbrella term for extremist racial ideologies including white nationalism and white supremacy
fake news: misinformation, hoaxes, and propaganda, especially as spread on social media sites to boost web traffic
locker-room banter: lewd, vulgar talk (used by Trump to downplay Access Hollywood tape)
small/tiny hands: jab at hand size implying other anatomical deficiencies
WTF WORD OF THE YEAR
bigly: in a significant manner (from widespread mishearing of Trump’s use of big-league)
cuck, cuckservative: derisive term for mainstream Republicans by alt-right
p—y: term for female genitalia used by Trump in Access Hollywood tape
yuge: dialect pronunciation of huge used by Trump and Bernie Sanders
HASHTAG OF THE YEAR
#blackgirlmagic: celebration of black women and their achievements
#NoDAPL: protest against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline
#OscarsSoWhite: criticism of Academy Award nominees’ lack of diversity
#p—ygrabsback: rallying cry responding to Trump’s “p—y” remark
EMOJI OF THE YEAR
raising hands (celebration, praise)
raised fist (fist pump, solidarity)
upside-down face (silliness, sarcasm, irony)
fire (“lit,” exciting); dumpster fire