Every year, some of the major dictionaries publish their “word of the year”, which are identified as words most often used and searched for online. Call us nerds, but these are always eagerly anticipated in the On Point offices, as they show how our language is changing and also provide some interesting social commentary.

Let’s take a look at which words Collins, Oxford and Merriam-Webster considered to be 2018’s word of the year, and what these words tell us about the times we live in.

Collins Dictionary 2018 Word of the Year

“Single-use” was Collins’s word of the year for 2018. This refers to disposable plastic items, such as cups and straws.

Its number one position highlights the need for behavioural shifts in the fight against climate change, and also the general public’s willingness to do so. After a particularly harrowing episode of the BBC’s Blue Planet II documentary series earlier this year, revealing the catastrophic damage our plastic waste is doing to the oceans and their wildlife, there was a huge, collective gasp of horror that quickly turned into action.

This has influenced government policy, and in a matter of months we have seen restaurants and other food and drink retailers up and down the country switch from plastic to less damaging materials. It’s good to see this reflected in the 2018 word of the year.

And, in another nod to our raising environmental consciousnesses, “plogging” was a runner-up in the Collins word of the year. The word refers to the activity of combining jogging with picking up litter, and originated in Sweden

Another runner-up was ‘floss,’ which is the name of a dance where people twist their hips in one direction while swinging their arms in the opposite direction. The word – and the dance – caught on this year after appearing in popular computer game Fortnite – cue Premier League footballers flossing for goal celebrations, and kids seeming to subconsciously enter a state of floss on a daily basis.

Oxford Dictionaries 2018 Word of the Year

Oxford Dictionaries’ pick this year is “toxic”. It became a descriptor for many of our most talked-about topics.

Defining the word as “poisonous”, toxic has seen a 45% rise in the number of times it has been looked up on the Oxford Dictionaries website, and has been used as a descriptor for chemicals, masculinity, environments (in reference to unhealthy workplace cultures for example), relationships, culture and air, among others. Thus it justified its place as a word that reflects the ‘ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and has lasting potential as a term of cultural significance’.

Oxford University Press’s president of dictionaries, Casper Grathwohl, said that toxic seems to reflect a “growing sense of how extreme, and at times radioactive, we feel aspects of modern life have become”.

Among the runners-up was the word gaslighting, which is a verb that has this year come to mean manipulating someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity and their reality.  It originates from Patrick Hamilton’s psychological thriller, Gaslight, first staged in 1938.


Meriam Webster 2018 word of the year

“Justice” is Meriam Webster’s 2018 word of the year, and was looked up on its website 74% more than in 2017. While the US dictionary’s word of the year and runners up are reflective of US culture in particular, many have cultural and political significance further afield, including in the UK.

The dictionary explains that the concept of justice was at the centre of many US political debates this year, including racial justice, social justice, criminal justice and economic justice, and concludes it has been a word on many people’s minds. Incidentally, last year’s word of the year was “feminism”.

Among their runners-up was “pansexual”, which saw a spike in online searches in April this year, when singer Janelle Monáe said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine that she identified with the term. This is used to describe someone who feels sexual desire or attraction that isn’t limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation.

Unleash the power of language with On Point Copywriting

It’s been a year of political turmoil, as well as massive social and environmental awakenings, and our shifting vocabulary reflects that well.

At On Point, we keep our finger on the pulse of how language is being used. We stay on top of its fluidity, where meanings and definitions are constantly in flux. We always communicate in relevant and effective language.

We can help you use creative and effective words to connect with your target audience. If you want help with your writing or editing – or simply need another pair of eyes to make sure your writing will have maximum impact, contact us today on 0117 244 0116.


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