There were a lot of surprises to come out of 2016, but “xenophobia” being named Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year is not one of them.
When you consider the rhetoric that galvanized people in this year’s Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential race, the proof that “xenophobia” is the word that most represents the zeitgeist of 2016 is, well, in the pudding.
According to Dictionary.com, the word’s origins stem from two Greek terms meaning “stranger” (”xénos”) and “fear” or “panic” (”phóbo”).
Searches for “xenophobia” on the site surged right after the Brexit vote in June. There was an even larger spike days later, when President Obama delivered a speech stating that language used by Donald Trump, current President-elect, was not an example of populism, but rather “nativism or xenophobia.” (Hear Obama’s comments below.)
“Xenophobia and other words tied to global news and political rhetoric reflected the worldwide interest in the unfortunate rise of fear of otherness in 2016, making it the clear choice for Word of the Year,” said Liz McMillan, CEO of Dictionary.com, in a statement.
“While we can never know the exact reasons why xenophobia trended in our lookups this year, this reflects a desire in our users to understand the significant discourse surrounding global events.”
Dictionary.com’s selection of “xenophobia” is far from the only indicator of our tumultuous year. Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year was “post-truth,” a term that means “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
In 2013, Oxford gave “selfie” the same honor. If only we could go back to those simpler times.