The Oxford word of the year will be voted for by the public for the first time, it has been announced. Since “the true arbiters of language” are “people around the world”, Oxford Languages has decided to put the final decision on the 2022 word in the hands of the English-speaking public.
Voting is now open online, and over the next two weeks English speakers can cast their vote, choosing from three words selected by Oxford University Press (OUP)’s lexicographers, each of which is believed to capture “the mood and ethos of the last year in its own way”. The shortlisted words are “goblin mode”, a slang term that refers to behavior that is “unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations”; “#IStandWith”, a hashtag used to express solidarity online; and “metaverse”, a term coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash to refer to a virtual reality environment, which has seen a dramatic growth in usage over the past year.
Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Languages, said the decision to open the final call to the public was partly due to living in a “post-Covid era”.
“Over the past year the world reopened, and it is in that spirit we’re opening up the selection process for the word of the year to language-lovers everywhere,” he said. “We are all participants in the evolving story of English, and after making it through another hard year we thought word-lovers would appreciate being brought into the process with us.”
The “word” of the year has come to be defined somewhat loosely, as it is open to slang terms such as last year’s choice “vax” as well as compound words and phrases. Eyebrows may well be raised by the inclusion of a hashtag on this year’s shortlist, but senior editor at OUP Fiona McPherson said that while hashtags are technically “a stylized form of word”, they are eligible for the word of the year because they are ” a really important feature” of current language usage. She also noted that people have begun to refer to hashtags in spoken as well as in written English.
Discussing the first part of the 2022 selection process, McPherson and fellow senior editor Jonathan Dent revealed some of the words that were in contention for the shortlist, including “platty jubes” and “quiet quitting”. Ultimately, however, the three shortlisted words were identified using OUP’s data as having experienced a dramatic spike in usage as well as having “captured one of the significant preoccupations of the year”.
In a further move to engage with the public, OUP will be sharing insights into the grammatical and linguistic behavior of all three choices on the shortlist throughout the voting period, while encouraging social media users to use the hashtags #TeamMetaverse, #TeamGoblinMode, or # TeamIStandWith.
Voting will close on December 2, and the word of the year will be announced on December 5.