off the cuff

Forget youthquake: Here are the real words of the year

Oxford Dictionaries’ word of 2017 is hardly earthshaking. But instead of being broflakes, let’s join in on the fun

Martin Kelner
16:34 December 31, 2017

Casper Grathwohl has the rather fine title of president of dictionaries at Oxford University Press, so it was he who chose the much-discussed but rarely used “youthquake” as 2017’s ‘Word of the Year’, over some other equally unlikely suggestions. I only mention that in case, in skimming over the story at this busy time of the year, you read Grathwohl alongside Antifa, gorpcore and broflake, and assumed it was one of the contenders.

Why not? The Microsoft spellchecker puts the same wobbly line under youthquake and the rest of Casper’s shortlist as it does under his name, meaning it’s not just the man on the Leeds omnibus (me) scratching his head over El Presidente’s selection.

In a hilarious blogpost, Grathwohl says: “I always look forward to the word of the year season.” (Who knew it was a season? Carry on calling it Christmas if you want.) “Selecting one word each year that embodies the previous 12 months is a difficult task, which is one reason we surround it with a diverse shortlist of friends.”

Who, I immediately wondered, is on this shortlist of friends, bandying youthquake, gorpcore, and milkshake duck around the dinner table, describing their festive cocktails as “unicorn” (artificially brightly coloured food or drink)? Freddie Flintoff? Debbie McGee? Professor Carlo Rovelli? I followed the link from Casper’s blog back to the Oxford Dictionaries website, and nowhere are names named. One might almost think he was referring to the rivals for Word of the Year — but other than perhaps Stephen Fry, no one could possibly be that arch.

In fairness to the press, he recognises that youthquake — defined as a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people, such as Labour’s improved performance at the last general election in Britain, or my teenage daughter retuning the car radio to Capital — has not exactly been on everybody’s lips in 2017.

“Sometimes you pick a word because you recognise it has arrived,” he explains. “But other times you pick one that is knocking at the door and that you want to help usher in.”

That leaves the president and those friends lucky enough to make his shortlist (Tony Blackburn? Professor Mary Beard? Richard Osman, almost certainly) an awful lot of latitude. Given that previous selections include the “tears of joy” emoji as 2015’s Word of the Year, the cynic in me is inclined to dismiss the whole Word of the Year season as an elaborate publicity stunt — or pubstunt, as nobody has ever called it.

But who wants to be a miserable old killjoy at this time of the year? Helping to “usher in” words that have rarely been used, and likely never will, is such fun we should all have a go. The only rule is that the ushered-in word, the ushee if you like, should in some way reflect the events and trends of 2017.

Here are a few of mine, for starters.

n Onan-occupier: A male figure in the entertainment industry bringing what has traditionally been a deeply private practice into the public domain, as an instrument of power to harass and humiliate women, and damage plants.

n Mudclear: The words issuing from the mouth of any politician, immediately after saying, “Let me be absolutely clear,” or “We’ve been absolutely clear on this,” as in the invariably opaque answer to the question, “What is Labour’s policy on Brexit?”

n Sheerfatigue: As in: “My daughter retuned the car radio to Capital, I tried another three music stations, and I still can’t get away from Galway Girl. If I don’t get back to Radio 4 soon, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

n Trumprace: The frantic race on Twitter to be first to point out the obvious idiocy of the US president’s latest tweet, and thus get all the ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ that would normally go to Owen Jones.

n Starklessness: Condition suffered by one who has never watched Game of Thrones, trying to socialise with a shortlist of friends who love the show.

Those are mine. Now feel free to usher away.

— Guardian News & Media Ltd

Martin Kelner is a journalist, author and BBC radio presenter.