Oxford Named 'Toxic' The 2018 Word Of The Year & It's Pretty Accurate TBH

For a concise summary the dysfunctional mess that was 2018, look no further than Oxford English Dictionary’s latest choice for Word of the Year: toxic.

Other than being the title of one of Britney Spears’ eternal bops, the word toxic doesn’t come with many positive associations. The Word of the Year announcement noted the word derived from toxicum, the Latin word for poison. Toxicum, in turn, originated in the Greek phrase toxikon pharmakon, referring to the poison that Greeks used to put on the tips of their arrows.

Modern usage of the word preserves toxic’s essence as something poisonous and corrupting, but, as Bustle reports, it’s now used to describe more abstract ideas such as “negative forms of stress, abusive expressions of masculinity, or relationships gone seriously awry.” In fact, in the OED’s list of words commonly used in association with ‘toxic’: masculinity, environment, relationship, and culture all made the top 10.

From the #MeToo movement to global concerns about air quality, it’s no coincidence that OED chose toxic to describe 2018.  Searches for the word ‘toxic’ increased by 45% this year, and, according to CNBC, the Word of the Year is often chosen because it captures the year’s cultural zeitgeist. Previous Word of the Year selections included youthquake in 2017 and post-truth in 2016.

Since so much happened in 2018 socially and politically, the flexibility of the word toxic may have helped it gain its title. As Head of Oxford’s U.S. dictionaries, Katherine Connor Martin remarked,  “so many things are tied together by the word.”

Word of the Year candidates come from the 150 million words gathered through Oxford’s language research program. This year’s runners-up include the process of manipulation known as gaslightingincel, which the dictionary defines as “a member of an online community of young men who is involuntarily celibate,” and, techlash otherwise known as the negative backlash to the ever-expanding power of tech companies like Facebook and Amazon.  

While this decision may reflect a lot of the tragedies and disconcerting revelations that occurred in 2018, on the bright side, a first step in eliminating toxicity is acknowledging its presence. If this reckoning with cultural and environmental toxicity continues, then maybe 2019 Word of the Year might be a happier one.