2018's 'Word of the Year' comes from one of the most tumultuous periods in Trump's presidency

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesOne of President Donald Trump’s most controversial policies gave way to 2018’s word of the year.
  • The American Dialect Society named “tender-age shelter” the 2018 “Word of the Year.”
  • The term was used by the US government to describe facilities designed to house babies and young children who have been separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border, due to changes in the Trump administration’s immigration policy.
  • In related votes, “wall” was named “Political Word of the Year” and “techlash” the “Digital Word of the Year.”

One of the Trump administration’s most-controversial policies has resulted in 2018’s “Word of the Year.”

A group of almost 300 linguists and word experts chose “tender-age shelter” as 2018’s word of the year at the American Dialect Society‘s annual conference on Friday.

“The use of highly euphemistic language to paper over the human effects of family separation was indication of how words in 2018 could be weaponised for political necessity,” Ben Zimmer, chair of the American Dialect Society’s new words committee.

The vote, held this year in New York City, aims to crown the word or phrase that defined the year and saw widespread or innovative usage.

The Trump administration set up multiple “tender-age” facilities over the summer to detain thousands of babies and other young children separated from their families as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policy at the US-Mexico border. The family separation policy sparked widespread, bipartisan condemnation throughout the last half of 2018.

Linguistically, experts latched onto the phrase “tender age” as a euphemism meant to downplay the harsh conditions of the facilities, in which the children were reported to be kept in cages and in some cases, subjected to abuse from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents. The Guardian’s Stephen Poole wrote in June that the term “has the whiff of Orwell’s Big Brother.”

This political nature of this year’s winning word continued a trend for the group of language experts. In 2017, the society chose “fake news” as the word of the year, citing Trump’s redefinition of the term from merely “falsehoods presented as news” to “actual news that is claimed to be untrue.”

In a companion vote, “wall” was named the “Political Word of the Year,” referring to Trump’s proposed wall along the US-Mexico border. Other nominees in that category included “blue wave” – referring to the Democratic Party’s gains in the 2018 midterm elections – and “lodestar” – a word used by a Trump official in an anonymous New York Times op-ed that sent the internet into a frenzy as people tried to guess its author.

Meanwhile, “techlash,” defined as “backlash against tech innovators,” was named “Digital Word of the Year.” And in the category of “Euphemism of the Year,” the runaway winner was “racially charged,” described by the language group as a “circumlocution of ‘racist.'”

The American Dialect Society has chosen the word of the year each year since 1990. Previous winners of the contest include “occupy” in 2011, “bailout” in 2008, and “metrosexual” in 2003.

See all the 2018 words of the year below (winners in bold)

WORD OF THE YEAR

  • (the) wall: proposed barrier along the US/Mexico border to prevent illegal crossings
  • yeet: indication of surprise or excitement
  • Individual 1: Legal code name used to identify President Donald Trump in court filings
  • tender-age camp/shelter/facility: government detention center for children of asylum seekers
  • white caller crime: white people calling police on black people for doing mundane things
  • “X Strong”: Word used in hashtag to suggest resilience (Pittsburgh Strong, etc.)

POLITICAL WORD OF THE YEAR

  • blue wave: major Democratic electoral gain
  • caravan: procession of Central American asylum seekers to US/Mexico border
  • lodestar: guiding principle (used in op/ed by anonymous White House staffer)
  • nationalist: displaying a staunch belief in one’s own nation (used by Trump and supporters)
  • (the) wall: proposed barrier along the US/Mexico border to prevent illegal crossings

DIGITAL WORD OF THE YEAR

  • blackfishing: pretending to be black on social media by using makeup and hair products
  • deepfake: realistic digitally composed video used to misrepresent someone
  • demonetize: remove ads from a YouTube channel to deprive the creator of revenue
  • finsta: fake Instagram account
  • techlash: backlash against tech innovators

SLANG/INFORMAL WORD OF THE YEAR

  • big d— energy: calm, unassuming attitude
  • canceled: firmly rejected or dismissed
  • mood, big mood: strong emotion of agreement
  • weird flex but OK: rejoinder to improper boast
  • yeet: indication of surprise or excitement

MOST USEFUL

  • himpathy: flow of sympathy away from female victims toward their male victimizers
  • orbiting: ending communication with someone while still monitoring them on social media
  • preferred pronoun: pronoun that a person opts to use for himself/herself/themself/etc.
  • situationship: undefined personal relationship
  • Voldemorting: avoiding mention of unpleasant person or topic by using a replacement term

MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED

  • cli-fi: science fiction relating to climate change
  • climate grief: negative feelings caused by climate-change-related weather events
  • hothouse Earth: runaway global warming
  • single-use: to be used once and destroyed

MOST CREATIVE

  • girther: person sceptical of the president’s reported weight and height
  • procrasti-: related to procrastination
  • today years old: indication that someone has just recently learned something
  • treasonweasel: epithet for a traitorous person
  • white caller crime: white people calling police on black people for doing mundane things

EUPHEMISM OF THE YEAR

  • executive time: presidential down-time
  • Individual 1: pseudonym for Trump in documents from the Mueller investigation
  • racially charged: circumlocution for “racist”
  • tender-age camp/shelter/facility: government detention center for asylum-seekers’ children

WTF WORD OF THE YEAR

  • emotional support peacock: therapy animal that airline passenger tried to bring on board
  • incel: involuntary celibate (online subculture)
  • s—hole countries: Trump’s epithet for places he does not want to accept immigrants from
  • soy boy: term for a man perceived as not conforming to male gender stereotypes
  • deleted family unit: bureaucratic term referring to asylum-seeking families whose children were removed

HASHTAG OF THE YEAR

  • #neveragain: call for gun-control measures after the Parkland shooting
  • #nottheonion: reporting something true that seems like satire from The Onion
  • #thankunext: expressing gratitude and readiness to move on (from Ariana Grande)
  • #timesup: movement protesting sexual assault

EMOJI OF THE YEAR

  • lobster (adopted by trans community)
  • nail polish (indicating air of nonchalance)
  • facepalm (indicating exasperation, disbelief)
  • thinking face (indicating bemused pondering)

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