English words of the year 2022

In 2021 some of the major dictionary publishers chose words related to the pandemic, unsurprisingly, while others reflected on the broader social issues or tech developments. (If you don’t recall what those words were, click here to refresh your memory). With New Year’s just around the corner, let’s see which words marked the year 2022, and what that selection tells us about the world we live in.


The Collins Dictionary word of the year 2022 is permacrisis, defined as ‘an extended period of instability and insecurity.’ With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, continued COVID-19 woes, and prolonged political and economic instability in many parts of the world, the word refers to a sense of a constant, never-ending crisis. Linguistically, this compound noun is a portmanteau made up of the words ‘permanent’ and ‘crisis’; you will recognize the same first element in the words like ‘permafrost’ and ‘permaculture’.

Dictionary.com’s choice may seem like an odd one, as it happens to be a very common noun, and one of the oldest in the English language: woman. However, 2022 saw the continuation of a major debate over the actual definition of the word, sparked by a sort of culture war between the transgender rights movement and the more conservative elements of the society. In reality, sex and gender are concepts more complicated than many are willing to acknowledge, and this debate isn’t likely to end any time soon. If you’re curious to know, Dictionary.com defines ‘woman’ as ‘an adult female person’.

Merriam-Webster also chose a word that reflects on a social issue, and a true sign of the times: gaslighting. Their definition of the word is as follows: ‘psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.’ Long one, isn’t it, but very precise. To find out what this word has to do with a 1938 stage play, visit the gaslighting entry on the Britannica website.

My personal favourite for this year is the word chosen by the Oxford English Dictionary: goblin mode. This slang term was chosen based on the results of a public poll, indicating its resonance among ordinary English speakers. The term refers to ‘a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.’ I think it’s fair to say that many of us have been in that mode at least since the start of the pandemic, although the word predates the events of 2020. Apparently, it first appeared on Twitter back in 2009, but has only now really caught on— thanks to a single tweet with a fake news headline that went viral in February.

Last but not least, the word chosen by the Cambridge Dictionary: homer. No, not Homer as in the legendary Greek poet, nor the Simpson—this ‘homer’ is short for home run. Still doesn’t ring a bell? Probably because you aren’t into baseball. A homer is ‘a point scored in baseball when you hit the ball, usually out of the playing field, and are able to run around all the bases at one time to the starting base.’ And why is that the word of the year 2022? It’s all because of the super popular online word game Wordle: on 5th May 2022 tens of thousands of confused users visited the Cambridge Dictionary website trying to find the meaning of this relatively obscure American slang term that was the Wordle answer that day. So, in a way, this word choice is less about baseball, and more of a hat tip to this wonderfully simple word game that has kept countless people entertained throughout this past year.

References:

  • Grammaticus.blog – NENAD KNEŽEVIĆ
  • BBC Learning English
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