My Word: Passing phrases in time

Far from going into goblin mode, I was spurred into action and motivated to find out what was happening lexographically elsewhere. The results continued to surprise.

 A young woman ‘sploots’ in ‘goblin mode’ as she participates in an event marking World Lazy Day (Illustrative).  (photo credit: Fredy Builes/Reuters)
A young woman ‘sploots’ in ‘goblin mode’ as she participates in an event marking World Lazy Day (Illustrative).
(photo credit: Fredy Builes/Reuters)

I was not so much lost in translation as lost for words. It is that time of year again: Dictionaries, newspapers and other outlets are publishing their “Word of the Year.” Perhaps symbolizing my relationship with the 2020s so far – and this year in particular – I couldn’t have predicted this: The renowned Oxford English Dictionary placed at the top of its list the phrase “goblin mode.” 

It refers to “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations” and was elected by a public vote from a shortlist drawn up with the help of Oxford University Press lexicographers.

I had never heard of it and it seems to express a generational gap as much as any other sentiment. Apparently, the term was first used in 2009 but went viral on social media earlier this year, according to Oxford University Press (OUP), after a fake headline claimed that the rapper Kanye West and Julia Fox broke up after she “went goblin mode.” 

The Jewish world will remember West, now known as Ye, this year for other reasons. And he won’t be remembered fondly. In 2022, Ye went into full antisemitic troll mode rather than goblin mode.

 Kanye West directs people during his Yeezy Season 3 Collection presentation and listening party during New York Fashion Week (credit: REUTERS) Kanye West directs people during his Yeezy Season 3 Collection presentation and listening party during New York Fashion Week (credit: REUTERS)

According to The Guardian, “goblin mode” won by a landslide, selected by 318,956 people, making up 93% of the overall vote. Proving that the “Word of the Year” need not be just one word or in everyday use, “goblin mode” beat “Metaverse” and “#IStandWith” in second and third places respectively. At least I got something right: As 2019 drew to a close, I wrote a column about the words of the decade, singling out the ubiquitous #hashtag as the hallmark of the period.

Casper Grathwohl, president of OUP’s Oxford Languages, said in a much-quoted press release: “Given the year we’ve just experienced, ‘Goblin mode’ resonates with all of us who are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point. It’s a relief to acknowledge that we’re not always the idealized, curated selves that we’re encouraged to present on our Instagram and TikTok feeds.”

“Given the year we’ve just experienced, ‘Goblin mode’ resonates with all of us who are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point. It’s a relief to acknowledge that we’re not always the idealized, curated selves that we’re encouraged to present on our Instagram and TikTok feeds.”

Casper Grathwohl

It’s an admission that not everything is back to normal following the Covid pandemic lockdowns. Or perhaps, this is the new normal. Don’t forget that last year, Oxford chose a bunch of vaccine-related words for its list.

What other words have become popular?

Far from going into goblin mode, I was spurred into action and motivated to find out what was happening lexographically elsewhere. The results continued to surprise.

According to Merriam-Webster “gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time.” “In recent years, we have seen the meaning of gaslighting refer... [to]: ‘the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.’ In this use, the word is at home with other terms relating to modern forms of deception and manipulation, such as fake news, deepfake, and artificial intelligence.”

It feels like popular words are playing mind games with us this year. Collins, the dictionary people and no relation, placed “permacrisis” at the head of its list. Collins defines it as “an extended period of instability and insecurity.” 

A blog on the Collins page written by David Shariatmadari notes that: “The 2020s have certainly seen their fair share of upheaval... Already this decade we’ve had to contend with a pandemic and its aftermath, a brutal new war in Europe, and in the UK an economic crisis that saw the Bank of England warning of a ‘material risk to financial stability.’ We’ve also had three prime ministers – so far.

“... Much more of this and we might have forgotten what stability and security ever felt like.”

In Israel, of course, the oxymoronic phrase “Shigrat herum,” emergency routine, has tripped off our tongues for years. If one word sums us up it is “resilience” rather than resignation to fate – although we can relate to the three prime ministers in a year bit.

The Collins Top Ten list has several interesting terms. Shariatmadari says under the circumstances, “we all could be forgiven for just wanting to join our furry friends in splooting – which, Collins explains, is the act of lying flat on the stomach with the legs stretched out – until all of these problems have gone away.”

In 2021, Collins lexicographers included “Neopronoun,” the use of gender-neutral pronouns like “xe,” “ze” and “ve” instead of “he/she” and “they.” 

This year, Dictionary.com gave as its word of the year “Woman.” They defined it as “an adult female person,” in case you’re wondering. The word was chosen due to the whopping 1,400% spike in online searches during 2022. Somewhat ironically, the searches were apparently driven by the need to find politically-correct language amid transgender-driven agendas. According to Dictionary.com, “The biggest search spike started at the end of March, during a confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who in April became the first Black woman to be confirmed as a US Supreme Court justice. Specifically, the surge in lookups came after she was asked by Senator Marsha Blackburn to provide a definition for the word woman.” Another hike was seen when Roe v Wade was overturned. The company stresses that: “The word belongs to each and every woman – however they define themselves.”

This particular woman and writer has more than once in the past year fought back at mentions of “a pregnant person” and “birthing parent.” The word “mother” should not be placed on the endangered species list. Women’s rights are no less important than transgender rights.

Reflecting games people play, at least online, Dictionary.com included the brand name “Wordle” on its list. But clearly 2022 was far from being all fun and games. The World Cup in Qatar made “sportswashing” a catchphrase and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is reflected in words around the world. 

The German Language Society, for example, proclaimed “Zeitenwende” its winner. If you take Google’s word for it, the term can be translated as “sea change” or “era change.” Chancellor Olaf Scholz used it in a speech following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, saying: February 24, 2022 marks “eine Zeitenwende in der Geschichte unseres Kontinents” (“A sea change in the history of our continent.”)

ALTHOUGH WE’RE well into the Hebrew year 5783, which started in the fall, the Hebrew Language Academy has joined the Word of the Year bandwagon for the third year running. It offered the general public a chance to propose the top word for 2022 and then whittled the suggestions down into a shortlist.

Neither of my offerings made it to the finals. I suggested “inflatzia” (inflation) carefully checking first with the HLA whether there is a better Hebrew word for it. (There isn’t, although it has been debated several times over the years.) My second choice, “Gevald,” is Yiddish rather than Hebrew but the cry of alarm was uttered by politicians of all stripes – from the secular to the ultra-Orthodox, Ashkenazi, Sephardi and even Muslim Arabic-speakers – ahead of the fifth elections in less than four years.

Voting on the Hebrew Language Academy website remains open until December 27 and the winning word will be officially announced on Hebrew Language Day next month. Meanwhile, the choices provide an insight into what’s on Israeli minds. There’s always a word for it. Keep in mind that the winner for 2021 was “tirlul,” which translates as “insanity.” How crazy is that?

As I write these lines, the current favorite with 22% of the 5,660 votes placed so far is “meshilut,” meaning “governance” or “control” (another buzzword in the elections.) This is followed by “bol’an” (sinkhole) with 19% (presumably reflecting infrastructure problems that were evident this year). In third place, is “hazaya” (delusion or delusional), 16%, which is understandable given how often the word “surreal” has come to mind over the past year. 

You still have a chance to boost “hemla” compassion (currently only 10%); “aklim” (climate, 9%); “migdar” (gender, 8%); “al maleh” (all-out, in full mode, 7%); “rogla” (spyware, 5%) or mashkanta (mortgage) which is at the bottom of the list with 4%. (Not that I want to see mortgages rise anywhere.)

Here’s looking ahead to 2023. Whoever has the last word, I hope it’s a good one.

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