Drum roll please! The Oxford Dictionaries 2017 word of the year is… youthquake!
Yeah, no, we’ve never heard of it either. While last year they went for the extremely relevant post-truth, reflecting the Brexit and Trump-led society of bullshit and fake news, this year, Oxford Dictionaries appear to have picked a word nobody has ever said.
Of course, they’re used to making controversial word of the year choices. In 2015, there was (admittedly quite minor, all things considering) uproar when they selected the cry-laughing emoji, but that seemed to annoy the right people (our parents), so we were cool with it.
Youthquake, however? It’s all very “hey there, fellow kids”, isn’t it? I guess we should tell you what it actually means, given no one knows. Here’s the definition: “A significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.”
On the selection, Oxford Dictionaries said: “The data collated by our editors shows a fivefold increase in usage of youthquake in 2017 compared to 2016, the word having first struck in a big way in June with the UK’s general election at its epicentre.”
While the sentiment is correct - young people did have a big part to play in the resurgence of the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party in June’s snap election, which saw grassroots movements like Momentum hit the streets in force to boost votes for the left-wing party.
However, the word may not have slipped into mainstream consciousness perhaps as much as the dictionary bods might have thought.
The word’s peak actually came in September, during the New Zealand election in which a similar thing happened - a high level of young people got engaged in politics, and old people stopped moaning about the youth not voting, and started moaning about them not voting for the people they wanted them to vote for.
’Youthquake’ was actually coined in 1965 by editor-in-chief of Vogue, Diana Vreeland. She labelled ‘65 “the year of the youthquake” in a column in the magazine. More than 50 years later, it appears it’s returned.
There are a number of other words on the initial shortlist we feel are more deserving of the word. My personal pick would be ‘Milkshake Duck’, the term born from a viral tweet which has come to be shorthand for a person or thing which is initially celebrated, until it’s discovered they actually have a dark or problematic past.
Take Keaton Jones for example. Everyone was rallying behind an innocent, bullied child, only for it to emerge that his mother has posted racist things on Facebook, including photos of the Confederate flag.
Why milkshake duck? Well, here’s the tweet:
The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! *5 seconds later* We regret to inform you the duck is racist— popular comedy account “the pixelated boat” (@pixelatedboat) June 12, 2016
The shortlisted words were as follows:
Antifa, noun: A political protest movement comprising autonomous groups affiliated by their militant opposition to fascism and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology.
Broflake, noun, informal, derogatory: A man who is readily upset or offended by progressive attitudes that conflict with his more conventional or conservative views.
Gorpcore, noun: A style of dress incorporating utilitarian clothing of a type worn for outdoor activities.
Kompromat, noun: Compromising information collected for use in blackmailing, discrediting, or manipulating someone, typically for political purposes.
Milkshake Duck, noun: A person or thing that initially inspires delight on social media but is soon revealed to have a distasteful or repugnant past.
Newsjacking, noun: The practice of taking advantage of current events or news stories in such a way as to promote or advertise one’s product or brand.
Unicorn, adjective [attributive]: Denoting something, especially an item of food or drink, that is dyed in rainbow colours, decorated with glitter, etc.
White fragility, noun: Discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.
Explaining why, in the end, Oxford Dictionaries had to plump for youthquake, their president, Casper Grathwohl, explained in a blogpost: “We chose youthquake based on its evidence and linguistic interest. But most importantly for me, at a time when our language is reflecting our deepening unrest and exhausted nerves, it is a rare political word that sounds a hopeful note.
“Sometimes you pick a word as the word of the year because you recognise that it has arrived, but other times you pick one that is knocking at the door and you want to help usher in… I think this past year calls for a word we can all rally behind.”
To be fair, that’s a good a reason as any to choose it. We take it all back. Still not going to start using it, though.
(Images: iStock / Rex)