“Xenophobia” is a word that means “intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries” and it is this phrase that has been named the #2016 “Word of the Year” by #Dictionary.com. Driven primarily by a spike in lookups on the site—especially over the course of America’s tumultuous presidential election—the word has been prominently featured in the news during a troubled year of warfare, refugee crises, police shootings, the Brexit vote and more. All of these current events directly impact what is “trending” in searches which have largely highlighted the fears and unease of people spanning the globe.
Xenophobia has roots from two Greek #Words “Xenos” (which means “stranger” or “guest”) and “Phobos” (which means “fear” or “panic”). The word has been used in the English language since at least the 1800s. Although it is not a common word per se, it reached a spike via Dictionary.com searches on June 24, 2016, which was the day after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union—a decision derived from a heavily debated referendum—which was followed by a spate of hate crimes in July.
Similarly, the United States has experienced an uptick in hate crimes as the “alt-right” white nationalist group has gained power and openly voiced their disdain for non-dominate groups such as Latinos, Muslims and African Americans. Meanwhile, countries in Eastern Europe have remained rife with racially-driven violence which has even been showcased at football games amongst rowdy fans.
The increasing commonality of a word like “Xenophobia” highlights a disquieting and unnerving rise of fear and distrust throughout the world as unfortunate events unfurl that result in individuals—or even whole groups of people—feeling increasingly isolated from others.
“I think the user interest in the term ‘xenophobia’ this year tells us that people are really engaging with the news and current events,” said Jane Solomon, a lexicographer at Dictionary.com, who noted that the Words of the Year frequently give people the opportunity to reflect on current events.
“If this chosen word gives people the chance to have thoughtful discussions, then that’s a positive outcome,” she stated. In 2015, the Word of the Year was “identity” and other Words of the Year of the past have included “exposure” (2014), “privacy” (2013), “bluster” (2012), “tergiversate” (2011), and “change” (2010).
“My favorite word is ‘frabjous’ which means ‘wonderful, elegant, superb, or delicious’ and it was coined by Lewis Carroll,” Jane Solomon proclaimed. “I’m hopeful that there will be a more positive Word of the Year for 2017. Yet our process is data-driven so we will go where our lookup data takes us.”