Red Card Roberts
February 28, 2017
Every year, editors at Merriam-Webster Dictionary select a word of the year. They award one word this top honor based on a variety of factors, from a spike in online searches to pop-culture vernacular to its frequent use in news headlines. The word of the year is meant to sum up the entire year in one word.
In 2016, the word of the year was "surreal." It was chosen because of its reoccurring use — after the Brussels terror attacks, a coup attempt in Turkey, more terror attacks in France, the death of Prince, shootings at a nightclub in Orlando, and then of course, after the U.S. election in November. Apparently, it was surreal how often the word surreal was trending.
The word of the year is usually announced in late December, after compiling data for the majority of the annual calendar. But, after only two full months of 2017, I'm pretty confident I can predict this year's word of the year: "unprecedented," which of course is defined as something that's never been done before.
I've heard the word unprecedented so often in the past couple months, it's no longer effective. And I have always hated clichés, so much so that I avoid them like the plague. If there were a drinking game for this word, with rules such as viewers had to take a shot each time a journalist said "unprecedented," we'd all be drunk — which at the very least could make all of these unprecedented situations a bit easier to process.
If there were a drinking game for this word, with rules such as viewers had to take a shot each time a journalist said “unprecedented,” we’d all be drunk
— which at the very least could make all of these unprecedented situations a bit easier to process.
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This year unprecedented has been used a number of times to describe an action by the president, from his travel ban to his hostile relations with the press to his social media gag order on federal agencies. CNN even published a book titled: "Unprecedented: The Election that Changed Everything." Frankly, unprecedented has been used an unprecedented number of times to describe everything Trump has done. At this point, I'm half expecting him to sneeze and have it be widely considered an "unprecedented number of ahh choos."
The word though is not limited to all-things Trump. It was also used to in reference to the New England Patriots' Super Bowl comeback, the snowfall here in Park City, and most recently, the flub at the Oscars when "La La Land" was mistakenly named the winner for Best Picture instead of "Moonlight."
And if you are more of a fan of Queen's English, the editors over at Oxford Dictionary have their own word of the year list. In 2016 "post truth" was their top pick. The dictionary defined "post truth" as 'relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.' It was chosen as the word of the year due to both Brexit and the US election.
The selection was a sharp departure from the dictionary's usually lighthearted picks. Just one year prior, it selected a tears of joy emoji as its word of the year. "Selfie" and "unfriend" have also held top spots.
But, unlike many of its predecessors, post truth doesn't appear to be a passing fad. Oxford Dictionaries' Casper Grathwohl said post truth could become “one of the defining words of our time.”
It seems, in this post-truth era, even our word of the year choices are unprecedented. And that's a little surreal.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.