The story so far: Collins Dictionary chose permacrisis, Merriam-Webster ;picked gaslighting, The Economist selected hybrid work, and Oxford Languages—the home of the Oxford dictionaries—for the first time left the deciding up to vox populi, with a result that baffled many of us: goblin mode (“a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations”). Apparently it went viral in February 2022? News to me.
Linguist Lynne Murphy compared the Oxford process to the 2016 poll that yielded Boaty McBoatface as the name of a polar research vessel.
Lynne, by the way, is accepting nominations in her own annual WotY contest, which picks the most successful UK-to-US and US-to-UK imports. Submit your suggestions here, where you can also see Lynne’s defense of homer, Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year.
And over at TheDickinson.net, Jim Asher is counting down the month with a WotY every day. He’s included some fun ones: lesbian dance theory, anyone?
Still to come: the American Dialect Society’s annual WotY selection, which will take place January 6 (a significant date; see below) during the ADS’s annual conference, in Denver. (You can submit your own nominations to the ADS until 5 p.m. ET December 28.)
Here’s my own contribution to the festivities. As in the past—this is my fourteenth WotY list—I’m not limiting myself to a single word: this year’s list includes sixteen candidates. Also as in the past, I’m following the American Dialect Society’s selection criteria: words (or “lexical items”—acronyms and phrases appear here, too) that were new or newly prominent, widely used, and relevant to events of 2022.
In alphabetical order:
AI. The abbreviation for artificial intelligence—“the capacity of computers or other machines to exhibit or simulate intelligent behavior”—has been around since the early 1960s, according to the OED (artificial intelligence first appeared in print in 1955). But 2022 was the year AI began “taking over almost every industry,” according to TechCrunch’s Katie Park. In particular, 2022 was “the year of generative AI” (source: VentureBeat): technology that “learns from existing content artifacts to generate new, realistic artifacts that reflect the characteristics of the training data, but do not repeat it” (source: Gartner). We saw generative AI in action with image-creation tools like DALL-E Mini (see my July 2022 post) and image-retouching tools like Lensa’s “Magic Avatar.” AI also stars in language-creation tools like ChatGPT, which can take a prompt like “Write a history of crosswords in the style of a conspiracy theorist”—something Ben Zimmer actually did—and turn it into a remarkably cogent essay. (Fun fact: In the mid-20th century, AI stood for “artificial insemination.” Less-fun fact: the GPT in ChatGPT stands for “generative pre-trained transformer.” Someone could use some naming help!)
Bivalent. Chances are you didn’t have a reason to use this word—which literally means “formed in pairs”—until 2022, when the new bivalent Covid vaccines became widely available. Here’s how the FDA explains it: “The bivalent COVID-19 vaccines include a component of the original virus strain to provide broad protection against COVID-19 and a component of the omicron variant to provide better protection against COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant.”
Camping. After the June 2022 Supreme Court decision that reversed a half-century of abortion rights throughout the United States, many states rushed to enact laws that severely limited abortion access. Just as swiftly, informal networks sprang up to circumvent those laws; some even anticipated the decision by a month or more. To avoid prosecution, many of those networks substituted camping as a euphemism for abortion, as in ““If you are a person who suddenly finds yourself with a need to go camping in another state, a state friendly towards camping, just know that I will happily drive you, support you, and not talk about the camping trip to anyone ever.” For more on camping, see my July 2022 post.
Coastal grandmother. Sometime in early spring, TikToker Lex Nicoleta announced the arrival of a new trend. “What is coastal grandmother?” she asked her 157,000 followers. It’s an aesthetic: “If you love Nancy Meyers movies, coastal vibes, recipes and cooking, Ina Garten, cozy interiors … there’s a good chance you might be a coastal grandmother.” You don’t have to be a grandmother to be a coastal grandmother; you just have to have the look and live the lifestyle, which includes Spotify playlists. By April 6, coastal grandmother (sometimes abbreviated to gran) had become a story on the “Today” show; by May “Good Morning America” was offering how-tos. By August style blogger Emily Wackerman was calling CG “the 2022 fashion trend for everyone.”
Fashion muse Diane Keaton embodying the CG aesthetic in Something’s Gotta Give (2003), directed by Nancy Meyers
Dopamine dressing. Not into coastal grandmother? Go for its polar opposite: clothing that energizes rather than lulls, releasing (maybe) a little chemical bump that boosts your mood. “If the [designer runway] shows are anything to go by,” British Vogue predicted in June, “then tangy orange, hot pink and lemon yellow could well be the new black.” For more, see my February 2022 blog post.
Fusion. On December 13, the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) had achieved fusion ignition—“a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making that will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power,” as the press release put it. Scientists had had a theoretical understanding of fusion for more than a century, but achieving it had proved elusive until now. The press conference announcing the accomplishment was historic for another reason: It was conducted by three women--DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm, LLNL Laboratory Director Kim Budil, and DOE Under Secretary for National Security and Administrator for the NNSA Jill Hruby.
Ghutra. The unofficial fashion statement of the 2022 World Cup was the ghutra, the headdress—also called a keffiyah—worn by men throughout the Emirates. It wasn’t only Qataris who sported ghutras this year: enterprising merchants created and sold them in the colors of almost all the competing teams. Bonus link: how to wear a ghutra.
Argentina World Cup ghutra. Source.
Grooming. Why were so many conservatives obsessed with grooming in 2022? They weren’t worried about their dogs’ fur or about doing a little manscaping. The grooming panic was about children and the manufactured fear that books, schools, librarians, and people with left-of-center leanings were turning kids into sex objects. Grooming, wrote Kaleigh Rogers in April for FiveThirtyEight, “is a term that neatly draws together both modern conspiracy theories and old homophobic stereotypes, while comfortably shielding itself under the guise of protecting children.” Read more.
J6. The two-character shorthand for “the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol that very nearly destroyed the Republic” proved useful in headlines about the public hearings that were conducted between June and October 2022. Unlike other such abbreviations—December 7, 8888, 9/11—it combines an initial and a numeral. And it was invented not by government officials or newspaper editors but rather by the organizers of the insurrection. Read more.
Long Covid. If you’ve recovered from Covid, don’t feel too smug: you may be susceptible to long Covid, also known as long-haul Covid or chronic Covid. (The World Health Organization’s official term is post-Covid-19 condition.) Symptoms may include fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive problems. In 2022, researchers determined that repeated Covid infections increase the risk of long Covid, as do more-severe infections. According to an economist writing for Bloomberg and the Washington Post, “The Covid-19 pandemic’s biggest impact on the US labor market will be as a mass disability event” as an estimated one in four Covid patients experience symptoms lasting months.
Monkeypox/Mpox/MPX. What to call the viral disease that resurfaced in May 2022 in Europe and North America, where the disease is not endemic, and afflicted mostly the Black and Hispanic communities, and gay and bisexual men? Since 1958, when it was first identified in monkeys in a Copenhagen lab, it had been called “monkeypox.” But that name proved problematic this year: “Some people argue that the name is racist and disparages an entire continent,” the Los Angeles Times reported in August. “Others view it as offensive to gay men. And then there are those who fear it could lead to indiscriminate killing of monkeys, as happened in Brazil.” In late November, the World Health Organization announced an official name change to Mpox. The state of California had been using Mpox or MPX since August.
Quiet quitting. We RTW (returned to work) after two years of WFH (working from home), and it’s not exactly paradise. So some of us—maybe a lot of us—are quiet quitting: doing the bare minimum. Quiet quitting surfaced in a July 2022 TikTok that got more than 8 million views: “You’re still doing your job, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life,” said TikToker Zaid Khan.. (More on hustle here.) There was a lot of discussion in the media about whether quiet quitting was the right thing to call it; maybe it’s just “setting boundaries,” NPR mused. By November, the tide had turned and CNBC was proclaiming, “After the Great Resignation and quiet quitting, loud layoffs are here.” Welcome to Late Stage Capitalism.
Roevember. As I wrote in November, just before the midterm elections: “After the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, ending federal protections for abortion, American women showed their disapproval in many ways: by publicly protesting, by publishing opinion pieces, and by registering to vote in often unprecedented numbers. The collective impact of these actions may result in what is optimistically being called Roevember: a rejection in the November 8 state and federal election of elected officials who opposed women’s right to privacy and autonomy.” The actions were largely effective.
Sewershed. Coined in imitation of watershed, a sewershed is the area of land where all the sewers flow to an end point. The word made its first and second appearances in the New York Times in early 2022 in stories about efforts to monitor wastewater for traces of Covid-19 virus. See my February 2022 post.
Sportswashing. The term, which means “laundering one’s reputation through sports,” was coined in 2015 but flourished, alas, in 2022. (The concept goes much further back, at least to Adolf Hitler’s reasons for hosting the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.) This year we saw China hosting the Winter Olympic Games, Qatar hosting the World Cup, and Saudi Arabia buying its way into the upper echelons of professional golf. For more, see my May 2022 post.
Finally, here’s a local WotY for my fellow San Francisco Bay Area residents:
Killer robots. In late November, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave local police the right to use explosives-laden remote-controlled robots to “when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available,” according to the draft policy. On December 6, after a week of public protest, the supes voted unanimously to overturn the proposal. “The people of San Francisco have spoken loud and clear: There is no place for killer police robots in our city,” said Supervisor Dean Preston.
Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP, via the New Yorker
Don’t see your favorite 2022 word? Leave a comment! And come back next week-ish for my Names of the Year list, which will include some key capital-letter terms.
My previous WoTY lists;
2021 (boosted, insurrection, shacket, and more)
2020 (Before Time, doomscrolling, pandemic, and more)
2019 (hamberder, OK boomer, squad, and more)
2018 (shithole, white caller crime, tender age shelter, and more)
2017 (reckoning, pussyhat, #MeToo, and more)
2016 (bigly, deplorables, woke, and more)
2015 (refugee, Mx., ghosting, and more)
2014 (Ebola, precariat, budtender, and more)
2013 (Obamacare, binge-watching, selfie, and more)
2012 (fiscal cliff, stockist, unskew, and more)
2011 (Arab spring, curate, planking, and more)
2010 (cannabiz, hashtag, vuvuzela, and more)
2009 (app, death panel, zombie, and more)