Xenophobia is Dictionary.com’s 2016 Word of the Year.
Over the past year Dictionary.com has added words like “Pokémon,” “woke,” “butthurt,” and “ghosting,” to it’s word catalog. However none of these words was chosen as 2016’s word of the year. Instead, the online dictionary went with “xenophobia”, as it’s word of the year 2016.
So why was “xenophobia” chosen as word of the year? Dictionary.com explained in a blog post that the word of the year selection “embodies a major theme resonating deeply in the cultural consciousness over the prior 12 months.”
Dictionary.com defines xenophobia as “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers.” It can also refer to fear or dislike of customs, dress, and cultures of people with backgrounds different from our own.
Within the recent past, Dictionary.com dated user interest in the term xenophobia to April 2015, when there was a massive surge in lookups that was larger than any of the peaks seen in 2016. The spike in lookups was connected to attacks on foreign workers and overall rising xenophobia in South Africa. While also at the same time lookups for xenophobia in the US also rose during that time.
Dictionary.com CEO Liz McMillan said in a statement: “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. 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.”
On June 24 of this year—the day after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union—searches for “xenophobia” saw a 938 percent surge in lookups.
The second biggest spike for “xenophobia” occurred near the end of June when President Barack Obama insisted in a speech that Trump’s supposedly populist rhetoric was actually an example of “nativism or xenophobia or worse.”
According to Dictionary.com despite being chosen as the 2016 Word of the Year, xenophobia is not to be celebrated. Rather it’s a word to reflect upon deeply in light of the events of the recent past.