Every December, every dictionary in the English language comes crawling out of the woodwork to reveal their “word of the year”: a single word or phrase that they deem to sum up the past twelve months. And every December, every dictionary in the English language cocks it up. I plan to fix that.
There are a few principles that a good “word of the year” pick should follow. For one, the word of the year should be a word, or at the very least, a phrase with a distinct meaning. You’d think this would be easy, but one of the Oxford English Dictionary’s nominees for 2022 was #IStandWith — a hashtag that only means, well, “i stand with”. See me after class, Oxford.
The word of the year should be from this year. It doesn’t have to have been coined this year, but it should, at the very least, have seen a spike in popularity: another nominee from Oxford was metaverse, invented by Neal Stephenson in 1992 but buoyed by Facebook’s trendy rebrand. Merriam-Webster1 are consistent failures in this regard, and this year’s pick was particularly egregious. Not only has gaslight been in use for years, but it was even the American Dialect Society’s pick for “most useful word of the year” all the way back in 2016!
People should have heard of the word of the year. I’m sorry to keep picking on Oxford here, but i highly doubt your average man on the street is familiar with the concept of going goblin mode.
Finally, the word of the year should last beyond this year; ideally, people will still be talking about it in a decade’s time. This is, to some extent, unknowable, but we in the present can take a good stab at it. We can surmise that 2007’s carbon footprint was a sturdier choice than 2006’s bovvered, and that 2014’s vape was a better selection than, say, loom band.
So then. What does that make The Satyrs’ Forest’s word of the year? It might not be a word, but as a phrase, it certainly has a meaning beyond the sum of its parts. It entered the public consciousness this year, and anyone in Europe who’s been paying any attention knows what it means. It is destined to enter the history books: though they might not use it in conversation, every time someone in 2122 looks up the history of the twenty-first century, our word of the year will be there, staring them in the face. It is:
special military operation
noun. (euphemistic) A war which cannot be referred to as such, particularly the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Infamously coined by Vladimir Putin in his euphemistic February address, no single utterance has had as much impact on the year that was. I could have chosen Kyiv or slava Ukraini — but the word of the year is not an award for positive impact, and without special military operation, those two would be unlikely to have entered the popular lexicon. I could have gone with metaverse, but it’s an ugly word, and one on which i am personally bearish. Lettuce would have amused, but if i wanted to declare a British Word of the Year, i would have called it that in the first place.
So — “congratulations” to special military operation on its victory, which is probably the only such victory Mr Putin’s side will ever have. Let us hope that 2023’s defining phrase will strike a more optimistic note.