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Oxford Word of the Year a hangover from COVID lockdowns

Harsh lockdowns may not be in force for most countries anymore, but Oxford’s Word of the Year shows people could still be suffering a hangover from COVID restrictions.

On Monday, Oxford University Press announced ‘goblin mode’ had taken out the top gong, after more than 300,000 English speakers voted for their favourite words.

Goblin mode is a slang term, often used in the expressions ‘in goblin mode’ or ‘to go goblin mode’.

It represents ‘a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations’.

Although first used on Twitter in 2009, goblin mode went viral on social media in February 2022.

The term’s rise in popularity came as people resented a return to normalcy after post-lockdowns, or rebelled against unrealistic aesthetic standards and lifestyles shown-off on social media.

After a hard year filled with war, energy price hikes and natural disasters, Oxford Languages president Casper Grathwohl said goblin mode resonates with everyone who may feel overwhelmed.

“It’s a relief to acknowledge that we’re not always the idealised, curated selves that we’re encouraged to present on our Instagram and TikTok feeds,” he said.

“This has been demonstrated by the dramatic rise of platforms like BeReal where users share images of their unedited selves, often capturing self-indulgent moments in goblin mode.

“People are embracing their inner goblin, and voters choosing ‘goblin mode’ as the Word of the Year tells us the concept is likely here to stay.”

The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression reflecting the “ethos, mood, or preoccupations” of the past 12 months, and candidates are tracked by Oxford’s editors who analyse frequency statistics and other language data in the Oxford English Corpus.

This year’s runners-up were ‘metaverse’ as major companies like Facebook continue to develop virtual reality, and ‘#IStandWith’ as people took to social media to express solidarity with specific causes, groups, or people.

More Word of the Year options

Oxford University Press is not the only organisation to try to define the year in a word.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s Word of the Year was ‘gaslighting’; “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage”.

In the age of fake news and social media clashes, gaslighting seems to resonate deeply with many people, as Merriam-Webster Dictionary saw a 1740 per cent increase in lookups for the word throughout 2022.

With a more local focus, Macquarie Dictionary’s Word of the Year was ‘teal’, after independent candidates (teals) took the federal election by storm, unseating more established candidates from the main parties.

“It’s hard to go past teal as an emblem of Australia’s political landscape in 2022,” the Macquarie Dictionary committee said.

“It’s not a brand-new word, but it is a brand-new sense that no one saw coming.”

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