Words of the year – 2019

There’s  variety of words of the year.

Oxford Languages:

The Word of the Year 2019 is


‘a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.’

Analysis of language data collected in the Oxford Corpus shows the rapid rise of climate emergency from relative obscurity to becoming one of the most prominent – and prominently debated – terms of 2019.

Runners up:

  • Climate action
    Actions taken by an individual, organization, or government  to reduce or counteract the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse  gases, in order to limit the effect of global warming on the earth’s climate
  • Climate crisis
    A situation  characterized by the threat of highly dangerous, irreversible changes to the  global climate
  • Climate denial
    The rejection of the proposition that climate change caused by human activity is occurring or that it constitutes a significant threat to human welfare and civilisation
  • Eco-anxiety
    Extreme worry about current and future harm to the environment caused by human activity and climate change
  • Ecocide
    Destruction of the natural environment by deliberate or negligent human action
  • Extinction
    The fact or process of a species, family, or other group of animals or plants becoming extinct
  • Flight shame
    A reluctance to travel by air, or discomfort at doing so, because of the damaging emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants by aircraft
  • Global heating
    A term adopted in place of ‘global warming’ to convey the seriousness of changes in the climate caused by human activity and the urgent need to address it
  • Net-zero
    A target of completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity, to be achieved by reducing emissions and implementing methods of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
  • Plant-based
    (Of food or a diet) consisting largely of vegetables, grains, pulses, or other foods derived from plants, rather than animal products

There’s  bit of  theme there. Obviously there has been substantially more interest in climate related issues this year.

Meriam Webster:


Our Word of the Year for 2019 is they. It reflects a surprising fact: even a basic term—a personal pronoun—can rise to the top of our data. Although our lookups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years. Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.


  • Quid pro quo
    We define quid pro quo as “something given or received for something else,” and “a deal arranging a quid pro quo.” The literal translation from New Latin is “something for something.”
  • Impeach
    “to charge (a public official) before a competent tribunal with misconduct in office”
  • Crawdad
    Delia Owens, the first-time novelist whose Where the Crawdads Sing made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, was interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning, sending crawdad to the top of our searches with a spike of 1,200%.
    Crawdad is used mostly west of the Appalachians to refer to the aquatic animal that looks like a small lobster and lives in rivers and streams—that is, to what’s also known as a crawfish or crayfish.
  • Egrerious
    “conspicuously bad”
  • Clemency
    “willingness or ability to moderate the severity of a punishment (such as a sentence)” and “an act or instance of mercy, compassion, or forgiveness.”
  • The
    The Ohio State University filed a trademark application in August for the word the with the U.S. Patent Office, in order to protect new branding logos that emphasize the “The” that is part of the official (some say pretentious) name of the institution—and the spiked 500%.
  • Snitty
    Snitty flew to the top of the dictionary lookups in May, increasing by 150,000%, when Attorney General William Barr used the word to describe a letter sent to him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
  • Tergiversation
    “evasion of straightforward action or clear-cut statement,” or “desertion of a cause, position, party, or faith”
  • Camp
    …what inspired the lookups: a gala event celebrating “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” the newly-opened fashion exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Exculpate
    The word exculpate is defined as “to clear from alleged fault or guilt.” It traces back to Latin culpa, meaning “blame,” also the source of culpable, which means “meriting condemnation or blame especially as wrong or harmful.”

That list looks very USA orientated.



“of or relating to existence” or

“concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individual’s freely made choices.” First recorded by the early 1900s, this existential is related to existentialism, a philosophy that affirms our individual agency in making meaningful, authentic choices about our lives.

Notable among searches was existential, which we’ve chosen as our Word of the Year for 2019. It captures a sense of grappling with the survival—literally and figuratively—of our planet, our loved ones, our ways of life.

Runner-up word:


Searches for nonbinary itself trended throughout the year after several celebrities publicly identified themselves as nonbinary, including singer Sam Smith and Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness. So did searches about another area of increasing visibility and inclusion in culture in 2019: diversity of sexual orientation. The terms omnisexual and pansexual, which can express sexual attraction to or activity with people of any sexual orientation gender identity, trended, for example, after Bella Thorne shared about their sexuality in the media.

There is a local word of the year which is quite lame in comparison.

Public Address:

OK Boomer

Public Address readers have chosen “OK Boomer” as their Word of the Year for 2019, causing emergency support services to scramble in anticipation of a wave of injured feelings among New Zealanders over 55.

“I’m really terribly sorry this has happened and I just hope the system can cope with what’s coming as a result,” says Public Address owner Russell Brown. “I mean, you saw what happened after Chloe Swarbrick dropped an ‘OK Boomer’ in Parliament – it was carnage. There were feelings injuries recorded on the other side of the world!

“I implore those affected to please just stay in the house you own until someone can get to you – if there’s more than one, try and pick the one that renters aren’t living in. Please also be aware that if you run out of food there’s an 0800 number you can call and there’ll be someone on the line to explain to you what Uber Eats is.

“I’m technically possibly a Boomer myself, so I understand the pain and confusion people will be feeling over this. Just know that we’ll get through it together.”

That blurb is even more lame than the term, which was used once on Parliament and then got a bit of publicity in some parts of social media.

It’s a fairly petty and some say divisive word. Chloe just used it as an off the cuff retort in an exchange in Parliament, but it was picked up on and promoted by some who seemed to think it trendy to dump on a demographic.

  1. OK Boomer
  2. They Are Us
  3. Ihumātao
  4. Reeferendum
  5. As-Salaam-Alaykum
  6. Climate Emergency

This list isn’t representative of Aotearoa, it was suggested and discussed and voted on by a niche left wing blog so is derived quite differently than the major word companies of the world.

Word of the year: Justice

Merriam-Webster have named ‘justice’ as their word of the year based on how often it was looked up. They have also listed another ten top lookup works. It is interesting to see what prompted interest in the words.


Our Word of the Year for 2018 is justice. It was a top lookup throughout the year at Merriam-Webster.com, with the entry being consulted 74% more than in 2017.

The concept of justice was at the center of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice. In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion.

This year’s news had many stories involving the division within the executive branch of government responsible for the enforcement of laws: the Department of Justice, sometimes referred to simply as “Justice.”

Justice has varied meanings that do a lot of work in the language—meanings that range from the technical and legal to the lofty and philosophical.

1. Nationalism

Lookups for nationalism spiked 8,000% on October 22nd and 23rd after President Trump announced at a rally in Texas:

“You know, they have a word — it’s sort of became old-fashioned — it’s called a ‘nationalist.’ And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”

Nationalism is defined as “loyalty and devotion to a nation,” especially “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.”

We seem to have little overt nationalism in New Zealand.

2. Pansexual

Pansexual saw a spike in lookups in April, when singer Janelle Monáe was quoted in Rolling Stone magazine self-identifying with the term. Today the word most often is used to mean “of, relating to, or characterized by sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation,” but the word entered the English language in the early 20th century with a different use: “tending to suffuse all experience and conduct with erotic feeling.”

The semantic breadth of the prefix pan-, which means “all” or “completely,” has made pansexual a useful alternative to bisexual for those who see gender as a spectrum rather than a binary.

I haven’t seen pansexual used much if at all here, but gender labels have certainly become big topics.

3. Lodestar

The anonymous op-ed in The New York Times said to have been written by a senior official in the Trump administration caused lookups to spike for lodestar (and its less common variant loadstar) in early September. The term was used in this passage:

We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.
— The New York Times, 6 Sept. 2018

Lodestar originally meant “a star that leads or guides (especially the North Star).” It now is used to mean “one that serves as an inspiration, model, or guide.”

This also didn’t feature in New Zealand.

4. Epiphany

There’s nothing remarkable about the word epiphany experiencing a spike in lookups in early January: the earliest use of the word is to refer to a Christian festival held on January 6th in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ.

But lookups of epiphany spiked in August when the word featured in the trailer for a song in a forthcoming album from the K-Pop group BTS. In the song, the word functions in its metaphorical senses having to do with the sudden perception of the essential nature or meaning of something, or an illuminating realization. The word’s Greek ancestor, epiphainein, means “to manifest.”

Pop culture can have a big influence on language. I haven’t heard of K-Pop, but maybe they are popular here with younger people.

5. Feckless

Samantha Bee’s segment about the Trump administration’s immigration policy of separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border included her plea, directed at Ivanka Trump, to “do something about your dad’s immigration policies,” then using a disparaging and obscene word modified by feckless, meaning “ineffective” or “worthless.”

The feck in feckless is a Scottish word meaning “value” or “worth.” And, interestingly enough, feckless does indeed have an antonym, although it is quite rare: feckful, meaning “efficient” or “effective.”

Another term confined to US use.

6. Laurel

It was the middle of May when one of the dictionary’s wallflowers shot into the lookups ether: laurel was up more than 3300%, all because of an audio clip that had divided netizens into two distinct group, those who heard laurel and those who heard yanny. (The clip came from the audio pronunciation file at Vocabulary.com’s entry for laurel.)

Linguists bounded in to explain the phenomenon—it has to do with whether lower or higher frequencies are more prominent, for an individual or because of audio quality—and the New York Times built a fun little tool that makes it possible for listeners to hear both.

News to me. Will I check to see if I’m laurel or yanny? Too busy for now.

7. Pissant

The sometimes vulgar and generally obscure word pissant enjoyed a brief but intense period of lexicographical popularity early in the year, when it rose 115,000% in Merriam-Webster.com lookups. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady called a radio station out during an interview after a DJ on the station had several days earlier described Brady’s young daughter with the word.

Pissant, which originally was a dialectal term for “ant,” has been used as a generalized term of abuse for a person or thing deemed insignificant since the early 20th century. Its origin is exactly what one might expect, a blending of the urinary sense of piss and the formicine sense of ant.

Another very US context.

8. Respect

When Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died on August 16th, the title of one of her most enduring hits was ubiquitous in tributes to her, and respect became a top lookup.

The world had known Franklin’s song for 50 years—in which time it has become an anthem for both the civil rights and feminist movements—but the word respect has been part of the English language since the 14th century. It comes from the Latin respectus, which literally means “the act of looking back.” It’s an apt etymology for a word that served as a focal point of a global appreciation for the decades of music Aretha Franklin had given the world.

Aretha Franklin was well respected here, and her death got some attention and coverage.

9. Maverick

Maverick spiked following the death of Arizona Senator John McCain in August. Interest in the word came as no surprise, since McCain had often been described with this word, meaning “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.”

Before maverick described independent people, it meant “an unbranded range animal; especially a motherless calf.” The word comes from the name of Samuel A. Maverick, a 19th century lawyer and politician who, although not a cattle rancher, ended up with some cattle taken as payment for a debt. Since he neglected to brand any identifying marks on the cattle, many of the “independent” animals were taken by other ranchers who branded them as their own.

McCain is well known here, but we tend to not have political mavericks in New Zealand. John A. Lee? Marilyn Waring? ( I saw her in the news a few days ago). Winston Peters when it suits him perhaps, but he is really a political opportunist who is happy to be anti-maverick when he gets what he wants, limelight and power.

10. Excelsior

Stan Lee’s motto and salutation excelsior spiked following his death in November. He used the word to conclude each of the monthly columns he wrote for Marvel Comics, and was so closely associated with it that he was even sometimes asked to say the word in public.

Excelsior is the Latin word for “higher” and is etymologically related to the words excel and excellent.

Lee’s death got a bit of a mention here but it wasn’t a big deal.

This is an interesting bunch of words, obviously quite US-centric.

Note that these are words that were popular to look up, but that may mean people weren’t sure what they meant. There are likely to be many words in popular use that people didn’t need to look up in a dictionary.

A small youthquake? More of a Winstonwobble.

“Youthquake” became a sort of popular term in 2017, so much so that Oxford Dictionaries named it word of the year:

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2017 is… youthquake.

The noun, youthquake, is defined as ‘a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’.

Why was ‘youthquake’ chosen?

The data collated by our editors shows a fivefold increase in usage of youthquake in 2017 compared to 2016, the word having first struck in a big way in June with the UK’s general election at its epicentre.

Thanks to the precedent established in the UK, in New Zealand use of youthquake to discuss young people’s engagement in politics was rapidly picked up by politicians and the press alike during the country’s general election. The word enjoyed increased and sustained usage both prior to and after the polling, setting youthquake firmly on its way to become a fixture of political discourse.

The use of ‘youthquake’ in New Zealand was fairly minor as far as I saw.

It was hyped a little during the election campaign, but once the numbers were analysed Election ‘youthquake’ a myth, figures show

While turnout for 18 to 24-year-olds on the electoral roll jumped from 62.7 percent to 69.3 percent, there were actually fewer in that age group enrolled to vote in 2017 than in 2014.

Combining the Electoral Commission’s data with population figures from Statistics NZshows only 47.6 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted in the 2017 election. In 2014, it was 47.4 percent – almost exactly the same.

It’s a similar story for 25 to 29-year-olds; while the Electoral Commission data suggests a 5.5 percent boost in turnout, if you include people who aren’t enrolled, turnout actually fell 1 percent.

‘Youthquake’ got a single mention in submissions, didn’t get any support, and didn’t make the cut of ten words in the Public Address Word of the Year 2017.

Nick Cater in The Australian: Words of 2017: charge your shoeys and toast our kidult runchers

Before bidding an indifferent farewell to 2017, let us ponder what is meant by “youth-quake”, the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year, and some of the other ­neologisms of the past 12 months.

A youth-quake, we are told, almost cost the Conservatives power in last year’s British general election when restless millennials voted for Jeremy Corbyn, an ageing muddle-headed mugwump, to borrow Boris Johnson’s sobriquet.

There was a small youth-quake in New Zealand in September, after which a 37-year-old woman with ostentatious teeth and a modest degree from the University of Waikato discovered she had become Prime Minister. No one knows how or why.

Despite the many words devoted to the topic, we await a convincing explanation of why the youth of today are quaking or what sort of world they want it to be when the ground settles.

The youth-quake generation’s causes are invariably “First World problems”, to use a phrase added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary to describe “a minor annoyance experienced by people in relatively affluent circumstances”.

Most made up words, particularly involving politics, are usually attempts by journalists to concoct some claim to fame rather than being a popular term emerging from the masses. I don’t hear ordinary people going around talking about ‘youthquake’ or Jacindamania’ in normal conversation.

The ‘missing million’ is probably barely understood if known at all outside the circles of political obsessives.

‘Youthquake’ isn’t even a new term according to Oxford.

When was ‘youthquake’ coined?

In 1965, emerging from a post-war period of tumultuous change, Diana Vreeland, editor-in-chief of Vogue, declared the year of the youthquake.

In an editorial in the Vogue US January edition that year, she wrote: ‘The year’s in its youth, the youth in its year. … More dreamers. More doers. Here. Now. Youthquake 1965.’

That’s well before Ardern was born.

Vreeland coined youthquake – based on the pattern of ‘earthquake’ – to describe the youth-led fashion and music movement of the swinging sixties, which saw baby boomers reject the traditional values of their parents.

As in 2017, the UK was at the heart of the youthquake, with ‘the London Look’ of boutique street-style individualism taking the high fashion houses of Paris, Milan, and New York by storm to inform a new mass-produced, ready-to-wear fashion directive worldwide.

The use of ‘youthquake’ in New Zealand was just another lame attempt to liken the election here in September to prior elections in the US, Canada, France and the UK, all of which were in quite different circumstances to each other and New Zealand.

Here Winston Peters aspired to trouncing Labour and challenging National for top spot at one stage of the campaign, but NZ First got the wobbles and came close to dropping out of Parliament. He then went through the motions of choosing between blue jelly and red and green jelly. He ended up helping Labour jack up what may well be a wobbly coalition, thanks to some gelatinous positioning by the Greens.

So we had more of a Winstonwobble, and Winston’s core support is from an elderly demographic. There is little similarity between him and Sanders or Corbyn.

The 2016 word of the year is…

…two words. Post-truth. Honestly. It says so on the Oxford website.

…the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

Post-truth has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines.

The term has moved from being relatively new to being widely understood in the course of a year – demonstrating its impact on the national and international consciousness.

Widely understood? I’m still vague about what it actually means. Truth and politics have long been long been regarded as highly suspect.

I think that ‘political bullshit’ may mean much the same and is more to the point.

Post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine. Reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War, Tesich lamented that ‘we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world’.

There is evidence of the phrase ‘post-truth’ being used before Tesich’s article, but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant.

I suspect that the plebs have long suspected that truth is irrelevant when it comes to politics and politicians – and to an an extent, media.

Tendentious windbag

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a diss or a compliment from Russell Brown at Public Address.

Truth is, I finally had to ban Pete on account of him being a tendentious windbag apparently immune to reason.

“Finally had to ban” was after one bit of a debate on one thread.

“Immune to reason” was backing up a different view with supporting facts and then holding my ground in the face of tetchiness and personal attacks.

I had to look up what ‘tendentious’ means.

: strongly favoring a particular point of view in a way that may cause argument : expressing a strong opinion

‘Hard Talk’ is a curious blog description if Russell bans people for expressing a strong opinion. Does he not want any opinions that may cause argument? That sounds soft.

But I wasn’t strongly favouring a particular point of view, I was questioning others’ points of view on the claimed infallibility of Nicky Hager.

At Your NZ you are allowed strongly favoring a particular point of view and it doesn’t matter if you cause argument, one of the points of political blogs is to robustly debate things. And that allows for expressing a strong opinion.

Here’s a strong opinion – we should make tendentious the Word of the Year 2015.

Word of the Year: #dirtypolitics

In one of the least surprising poll results of the year Public Address has named their word of the year as #dirtypolitics. That reflects an obsession in a bubble.

‘Dirty Politics’ has certainly been prominent this year – in some circles. Most of the public see it differently, ‘dirty politics’ is synonymous with ‘politics’ and it has been for many more years than 2014.

“I can only suppose that a hacker has penetrated the special Google voting software,” said a near-comatose Brown. “I’ve asked Pete George to investigate.”

No investigation needed. When a blog shuts out alternative opinions it is likely to get a poll result like this. Russell banned me for debating dirty politics and challenging Nicky Hager’s perfect record of never being proven wrong (as claimed on Public Address).

Russell also took a swipe at David Farrar.

I mean, Jason Ede and Phil de Joux have new jobs, Judith Collins has a newspaper column, David Farrar has returned to his familiar role of providing an internet platform for scary racists and bigots – and confused, mendacious Taxpayers’ Union press releases are being  pasted into newspaper stories again.

Farrar’s moderation policy of not censoring opinions does allow some fairly extreme views to be expressed.

Is that any dirtier than shutting out opinions you don’t agree with?

#dirty politics may be an appropriate word of the year for the New Zealand blogosphere, but using “Word of the Year” as a vehicle to continue a political campaign may be as self revealing as it is accusatory.


1. #dirtypolitics

2. “At the end of the day”

3. Whaledump

4. “Pretty legal”

5. “Not as Prime Minister”

6. Peak Cray

7. Textual relations

8. Rawshark

9. Swearwolves

10. Ebola

That reflects a politically slanted vocabulary.

‘Word of the year’ dominated by partisan politics

What words or phrases have been popularised this year?

Russell Brown has run an interesting ‘Word of the Year’ since 2006. Past years have produced a mix of general and political flavours (runners-up in brackets).

  • 2006 unbundled (peow peow, truthiness, emo)
  • 2007 Te Qaeda (Sub-prime, It’s business time)
  • 2008 credit crunch (rofflenui)
  • 2009 Always blow on the pie (whanker, Whanganui, Lhaws)
  • 2010 twatcock (vuvuzela, liquefaction, wikileaks)
  • 2011 munted (nek minnit, ghost chips)
  • 2012 brainfade (Marmageddon, Planet Key)
  • 2013 metadata (selfie, Lorde, berm)

Some of those were in common use, others not so much. I don’t remember Te Qaeda at all. The 2009 and 2010 picks seem to be have chosen for their quirkiness or cleverness rather than the amount of use.

The last two years has seen a more narrow political focus rather than looking at wider social vernacular.

Public Address Word of the Year 2014

It’s that time again! The time, that is, when Public Address readers nominate, debate and vote for their Word of the Year. What winning word or phrase will emerge? Will it come from the hurly-burly of the weirdest general election ever, or from another part of the culture?

This year is dominated by obsessed partisan politics on a left leaning blog rather than social commentary.

  • at the end of the day
  • pretty legal
  • not as Prime Minister
  • #dirtypolitics
  • #gamergate
  • TeamKey
  • akshully
  • attack blogger
  • bubble
  • chit chat
  • conspiracy theory (why not chemtrails?)
  • chit chat
  • CV
  • Ebola
  • exonerated
  • Ferguson
  • Hacker
  • Hager
  • Hagerbomb
  • Johnkey
  • legal highs
  • Lorde
  • MSM
  • OIA
  • Peak Cray
  • Pfffsssttt
  • Rawshark
  • refute
  • selfie
  • surveillance
  • swearwolves
  • textual relations
  • tipline
  • twerking
  • uber
  • uncoupling
  • Whaledump
  • XKeyScore

Comments on the voting thread shows where much of the attention seems to be, with these two pointing it out:

half of it could combine into a stream of consciousness mumble by dear leader in any interview

Intriguing that the list has a strong anti-right bias

So a strong political/John Key.dirty politics focus in the choice of words and also political considerations in the discussion:

Got to be Whaledump: it’s so 2014-specific.

I was sorely tempted, but I think Slater would see it as a personal victory.

I must admit, that thought did put me off voting for Whaledump.

the ultimate victory. imagine the juvenile gloating

The vast majority of the population won’t have heard of ‘Whaledump’ nor will have any idea what it’s about.

Most people won’t know what many of those words are about.

‘Word of the year’ seems to have become a partisan exercise in political point scoring. That’s obviously what interests the active participants at Public Address but it doesn’t seem to reflect current common Kiwi vernacular.

What words or phrases have been popularised this year?