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Does ‘goblin mode’ sum up 2022 for you?

The term “goblin mode” has been crowned Word of the Year for 2022, as voted by the public via an online poll.

Sleep is associated with a state of muscle relaxation and reduced perception of environmental stimuli. — Image: Rachel CALAMUSA (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Sleep is associated with a state of muscle relaxation and reduced perception of environmental stimuli. — Image: Rachel CALAMUSA (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When you think back across 2022, which word or phrase captures the zeitgeist? Each year the Oxford English Dictionary selects its word of the year and this year the selected ‘word’ (or rather phrase) is “goblin mode.”

The Oxford Word of the Year is intended to represent “a word or expression reflecting the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the past twelve months, one that has potential as a term of lasting cultural significance.”

As to what “goblin mode” means, Oxford defines this as “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.”

As far as lexicographers can assess, the word has been in use since 2009 when it first entered the digital lexicon on Twitter.

Apparently, the phrase gained traction from February 2022, possibly as a reaction to a return to so-termed “normalcy” after COVID-19 restrictions began to be lifted in many countries.

In terms of context, the London Evening Standard develops an example of “goblin mode” as: “Sinking into your sofa under a blanket stained with tomato from takeaway pizza – the crusts of which are long cold in the box on the floor but you’ll probably eat them later. Gormlessly watching Too Hot To Handle with no sense of irony. Making no plans to do anything as productive as, say, brushing your teeth or leaving the house.”

Whereas The Guardian uses: “Goblin mode is like when you wake up at 2am and shuffle into the kitchen wearing nothing but a long t-shirt to make a weird snack, like melted cheese on saltines”.

This puts “goblin mode” firmly in the slacker arena.

To be considered, a word or phrase must be supported by evidence of real language usage. This is based on context, frequency statistics and other language data.

This year represented the first year when the selection process for ‘Word of the Year’ was opened up to English speakers for the first time in its history. Across a period of two weeks more than 300,000 people cast their vote against a pre-made list.

With the 2022 vote, “goblin mode” got 93 percent of the more than 300,000 votes. “Metaverse” finished second. In third place was “#IStandWith” (to represent mass social media reactions to a perceived injustice, such as “#IStandWithUkraine”).

Time will tell whether “goblin mode” or “metaverse” has the most capital.

Previous words of the year have included vax (2021) and climate emergency (2019). The last ten years have given us:

2013    selfie   

2014    vap     

2015    ? (Face With Tears of Joy, Unicode: U+1F602, part of emoji)     

2016    post-truth

2017    youthquake    

2018    toxic

2019    climate emergency

2020    No single word chosen (due to this being the year of COVID-19 turmoil).

2021    vax

2022    goblin mode

A week ago another dictionary -Merriam-Webster  – announced its word of the year this year as “gaslighting”. While the word is old, possibly dating back a hundred years, its use has spiked across 2022. “Gaslighting” refers to the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own advantage.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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