Toxic has been announced as Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2018. The word was selected from a shortlist that also included: gaslighting, incel and gammon.
The Oxford Word of the Year award is used to pick a word that best expresses the past year in language. So, whilst often used when referencing Britney Spears, Oxford defines toxic as ‘poisonous; relating to or caused by poison; very bad, unpleasant, or harmful’ in reference to the word’s growing popularity in usage during 2018.
Unlike other Word of the Year contenders, namely ‘big dick energy’ (BDE), toxic has been used consistently throughout history but has recently grown in popularity in the rhetoric of politics, social media, feminism and, unsurprisingly, science.
Scientifically, toxic has continued to be a hugely discussed word; International headlines have ranged from covering toxic plastic waste filling our oceans to toxic algae causing problems over summer in Scotland’s lochs.
Sabrina Edwards, The Badger’s Science Editor, said: “There have been many papers and discoveries in 2018 on what we thought was safe and commonplace, like plastics, being toxic for us and our environments. It can feel like an avalanche to learn that so much around us is dangerous with this feeling defining much of this year.”
In a more general sense, toxic has been used to describe many cultural issues and phenomena this year. In the wake of Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo Movement, society and social media has shone a spotlight on toxic masculinity as part of their effort to protect the victims of sexual assault and harassment.
Tess, a politics student at Sussex University, said: “With feminism entering pop culture so prominently in the modern day, toxic is continuously used to describe the patriarchy obsessed media from films to music, news to politics.”
Currently within British universities, the debate surrounding changing the Gender Recognition Act has been labelled toxic by people on both sides. The proposed changes would make it easier for transgender people to have their preferred gender legally recognised. However, a lot of female academics, who identify as feminist, are standing against this change and fear for their safety with some claiming they’ve been outcast.
Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries, said, “‘toxic’ seems to reflect a growing sense of how extreme, and at times radioactive, we feel aspects of modern life have become.”
Whilst toxic was chosen, Oxford had a shortlist of words reflecting the social, economic, cultural and political trends made up of new words and old words that have taken on a new definition or resonate with the year.
Gammon, previously defined as a type of pork, has been redefined ‘as a derogatory term for an older middle-class white man whose face becomes flushed due to anger when expressing political (typically right-wing) opinions.’
With gaming communities thriving this year, the word incel, short for involuntarily celibate, has grown in use gamers and members of online subcultures to describe themselves.
Gaslighting, like toxic, relates to toxic masculinity and toxic relationships to describe ‘the action of manipulating someone by psychological means into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity.’
The shortlist is full of words that focus on very specific issues and phenomena, whilst toxic is the most all encompassing word which in turn logically makes it 2018’s Word of the Year.