WOTY18—the words of the year 2018

Many of the English-speaking world’s leading dictionaries have published their Word of the Year for 2018 (WOTY18). The words are not always new, but they have been prominently used in the past year.

The WOTY can be a word or a “vocabulary item” (acronyms, phrases, etc). Some organisations have committees to decide their WOTY; others simply use metrics (usually visits to a web-listing); and others let their readers vote. Regardless of how the words are selected they do give us a taste of the times (an insight into the zeitgeist).

Cambridge Dictionary—nomophobia

The Cambridge Dictionary is published by the Cambridge University Press in the UK. It has a popular online dictionary with an “enthusiastic global readership” that has voted on their preferred WOTY18. They voted for nomophobia—fear or worry at the idea of being without your mobile phone or unable to use it.

It is a bit of a nonsense word created from a word blend of NOMObile-PHOne-phoBIA. It no doubt gets its humour from taking the appearance of a scientific word.

Oxford Dictionary—toxic

The Oxford Dictionary is published by the Oxford University Press in the UK. It chooses its WOTY to reflect the preoccupations of the year and to have lasting cultural significance.

They chose toxic in 2018 as “an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics” because it was applied in so many different uses that it was the obvious choice. Their data showed the number of times it was looked up on their website, oxforddictionaries.com, increased by 45%.

During the year toxic chemical was used a lot in referencing the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer; the World Health Organization published its report into the quality of air breathed by children worldwide describing the pollution as toxic air; and it got lots of media in the US as its government seeks to reduce the spread of toxic waste. Mass walkouts at Google were blamed on a toxic culture; toxic relationships occurred in a number of contexts; and the #MeToo movement spotlighted toxic masculinity!

Read our post for the fascinating word history of toxic.

Collins Dictionary—single-use

The Collins Dictionary is produced by a British educational publishing house. It chose single-use as their WOTY18. Single-use products are items (mostly plastic) that are produced to be used once and then thrown away. (We have used their graphic to illustrate the blog).

Images of plastic masses in the middle of oceans, such as straws, bottles, and bags have led to a global campaign to reduce their use. Collins say the word has seen a four-fold increase since 2013. In Britain with news stories and images such as those seen in the BBC’s Blue Planet II steeply raising public awareness of the issue and similarly in Australia with the ABC’s War on Waste series it is a meaningful choice.

Australian National Dictionary Centre—Canberra bubble

The Australian National Dictionary Centre chose as their WOTY18, Canberra bubble, referring to the insular environment of Australian federal politics.

Canberra bubble, infers that federal politicians, bureaucrats and political journalists living and working in Canberra are obsessed with the goings-on in Canberra at the expense of seeing the everyday concerns of Australians.

Canberra bubble was first used in 2001 but its use has increased in response to Australian political parties changing their leaders on whim. Scott Morrison, Australia’s current Prime Minister (December 2018) said in October:

The Canberra bubble is what happens down here, when people get all caught up with all sorts of gossip and rubbish, and that’s probably why most of you switch off any time you hear a politician talk.

Macquarie Dictionary

The Macquarie Dictionary will announce their WOTY18 in January. They choose a selection of words each month and are suggesting a few candidates for the word of the year including:

  • doorway effect—forgetting what you were doing when you enter a room based on the belief that passing through a doorway resets your memory
  • solopreneur—an individual who creates and runs a business on their own
  • himpathy—the sympathy extended to a male wrongdoer over his female victim


Dictionary.com sees the spread of misinformation as a new and important challenge and believe understanding the concept is vital to identifying misinformation and curbing its impact. They chose it as their WOTY18.

Dictionary.com defines misinformation as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” Their choice of misinformation follows last year’s choice by the prestigious American Dialect Society of fake news showing the fears we have for the truth.

The American Dialect Society make their announcement in January each year.


Merriam-Webster, a US reference book publisher especially known for its dictionaries, has justice as their WOTY18, based on it being the top lookup on their website, Merriam-Webster.com, being consulted 74% more than in 2017.

They explain that justice was at the centre of many US debates in 2018: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice; and for these reasons it was on the minds of many people in 2018.

Ready for 2019

All of these words will resonate with people as being at the centre of our lives in 2018. Lets hope that 2019 sees us address the underlying issues that have driven these words into prominence.