If the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year is meant to encapsulate an entire year in language and culture, 2016’s is particularly — and, let’s be real, fittingly — bleak.
In a press release, the dictionary announced that the most representative word for this year is “post-truth,” which the dictionary defines as follows:
post-truth: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
Yeah, sounds about right.
It’s true that the concept of “post-truth” has been around for far longer than just this year. The Oxford Dictionaries’ press release credits the term to Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich, who used it despairingly in a 1992 essay in the Nation. Merriam-Webster even crowned a version of the term as its own word of the year in 2006, which went to Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” (or "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true”).
But president of Oxford Dictionaries Casper Grathwohl — a name so perfect for the president of Oxford Dictionaries that I’d understand if you thought I made it up — credited the year’s whiplash-inducing political climate for helping “post-truth” beat out finalists like “alt-right” and “woke.”
Grathwohl said that “post-truth” is the most relevant it’s ever been in 2016, “fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment.”
Grathwohl’s statement even explicitly referenced the victories of Brexit and Donald Trump — who just won the election after a steady campaign of half-truths and flat-out lies — as factors in the dictionary’s decision.
Needless to say, the idea that “post-truth” could not just exemplify this year but — in Grathwohl’s words — be “one of the defining words of our time” is a frightening one.
And if you needed further proof that 2016 has been a particularly intense harbinger of chaos, look no further than the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year for 2015, which was the “face laughing with tears” emoji.