Earlier this month, the Oxford English Dictionary chose "post-truth" as its international word of the year for 2016, which didn't sit well with Stephen Colbert. Now, though, Dictionary.com has announced its own 2016 word of the year, and it is...xenophobia.
Over the summer, Dictionary.com added "Pokémon," "woke," "butthurt," and "ghosting," but not a single one of those words was chosen as 2016's word of the year. Instead, the online dictionary went with "xenophobia," a noun that the online dictionary defines as "fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers" and "fear or dislike of the customs, dress, etc., of people who are culturally different from oneself." The word entered the English language in the late 1800s and originates from two Greek terms, "xénos," which means "stranger, guest," and "phóbos," which means "fear, panic."
So how was "xenophobia" chosen? Dictionary.com explained in a blog post that the word of the year selection "embodies a major theme resonating deeply in the cultural consciousness over the prior 12 months." This year, they note, fear of the "other" played a huge role in several prominent news stories, like Brexit and Donald Trump's presidential campaign and election.
Dictionary.com CEO Liz McMillan said in a statement: "Xenophobia and other words tied to global news and political rhetoric reflected the worldwide interest in the unfortunate rise of fear of otherness in 2016, making it the clear choice for Word of the Year. While we can never know the exact reasons why xenophobia trended in our lookups this year, this reflects a desire in our users to understand the significant discourse surrounding global events."
On June 24 of this year—the day after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union—searches for "xenophobia" saw a 938 percent surge in lookups.
The second biggest spike for "xenophobia" occurred near the end of June when President Barack Obama insisted in a speech that Trump's supposedly populist rhetoric was actually an example of "nativism or xenophobia or worse."
Sen. Bernie Sanders has slammed Trump as xenophobic as well:
Professor Robert Reich at Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy agreed with Dictionary.com's choice but noted that it's not something to celebrate. "Dictionary.com is right to make xenophobia the word of the year," he said, "but it is also one of the biggest threats we face. It is not a word to be celebrated. It is a sentiment to be fought."