Oxford Word of the Year for 2022: the people’s choice

21 November 2022
5 min read

“English is a democracy; there is no guiding authority telling us what we can say, what we can’t say, what is correct and what is incorrect.”

For almost two decades, the Oxford Word of the Year has reflected the mood, ethos, and social landscape of that given year. During 2022, the world gradually reopened after a pandemic. For most countries, this meant reuniting with friends and family, gathering for events, and heading back into offices and workplaces.

This year hasn’t only been characterized by reunion and reconnection, but also by activism, and social and political change. In recognition of this, we are opening up this year’s Oxford Word of the Year for everyone, everywhere to have their say on what word best reflects their experience of 2022.

We unveiled the news in an exclusive virtual press event chaired by English lexicographer and broadcaster Susie Dent. We were joined by our panelists, including:

  • Ben Zimmer – American linguist, lexicographer, and language columnist
  • Katherine Martin – Product Director, Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press
  • Fiona McPherson – Senior Editor, Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press
  • Jonathan Dent – Senior Editor, Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press

The panel discussed why, in a year underpinned by change, we’ve adopted a different approach to choosing the Word of the Year for 2022.

We also revealed the three candidates that were chosen by our language experts after carefully researching and reviewing this year’s lexicon. The words that will be put to a public vote include:

  • metaverse n.

A (hypothetical) virtual reality environment in which users interact with one another’s avatars and their surroundings in an immersive way, sometimes posited as a potential extension of or replacement for the internet, World Wide Web, social media, etc.

  • #IStandWith

Used on social media to express solidarity with a specified cause, group, person, etc.

  • Goblin Mode n.

slang. A type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations; frequently in in goblin mode or go goblin mode.

All three words experienced substantial spikes in usage and capture significant concerns, concepts, and states that we’ve faced this year.

During the Oxford Word of the Year event, Susie Dent praised the fresh approach to this year’s process:

“I’m so excited by this because this is true democracy. English is a democracy; there is no guiding authority telling us what we can say, what we can’t say, what is correct and what is incorrect. This really feels like Word of the Year is going to reflect that authentic approach. I love it.”

Jonathan Dent also outlined the “evidence-based” process into researching possible candidates for the Oxford Word of the Year.

“Wherever possible, we use corpuses,” Jonathan highlighted.

“These are large bodies of tagged electronic text – the words are all grammatically tagged, and we can analyze the sentences. It allows us to analyze on quite a large scale – linguistic patterns and trends, which words co-occur quite frequently, development of existing words or words moving into different realms.

“For the monitoring and lexicography of current English, we have access to a 19-billion-word corpus, which is updated monthly with new content from all around the world. This is our main resource when thinking about Word of the Year; it allows us to see fluctuations and increases in usage in the past twelve months.”

Additionally, Jonathan indicated the reasoning behind metaverse’s inclusion as an Oxford Word of the Year candidate.

“Up until this year, it’s been a relatively low-frequency word in our corpus, but we’ve seen it quadruple in the past year.

“I think as well as reflecting the extent to which our experience of the world and communication is mediated increasingly by social media and the internet, it also perhaps represents ongoing questions about ownership and regulation on new technologies – especially those means by which we communicate.”

For our second word candidate, #IStandWith, Fiona McPherson mentioned its usage online to express support.

“By using #IStandWith, people are able to at least show solidarity for something that may be happening hundreds or thousands of miles away.

“I think this says something quite characteristic about 2022, in that it shows the ways that we’ve come together in solidarity after a difficult number of years. There are still difficulties and horrors in the world, so it’s a way of us coming together and showing solidarity and perhaps expressing how we feel about something.”

Ben Zimmer also gave his thoughts on Goblin Mode as our third Oxford Word of the Year candidate:

“I think that Goblin Mode really does speak to the times and the zeitgeist, and it is certainly a 2022 expression!

“People are looking at social norms in new ways. It gives people the license to ditch social norms and embrace new ones.”

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing insights into the grammatical and linguistic behaviour of the words across our social media channels, asking the public to cast their vote and answer the question: Are you #Teammetaverse, #TeamGoblinMode, or #TeamIStandWith?

Voting is now open across OUP’s social media accounts (TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn) and website.

We will monitor the conversation closely and reveal the winner of the Oxford Word of the Year 2022 on 5th December. Evidenced by the experts at Oxford and chosen by you, English speakers everywhere.