The Word of the Year is Fear

If the most-searched words in online dictionaries are any gauge of the collective conscious, the 2016 results for “word of the year” are not encouraging.

The Oxford Dictionaries has already given in to “post-truth,” and to “xenophobia.” Merriam-Webster, meanwhile, put out a clarion call this week to preempt “fascism” as its WOTY.

For my personal word of the year, I’m leaning toward “bumfuzzle” (to confuse or perplex), recently brought to public attention by a New York Times article on election results. I read Merriam-Webster’s plea to oust the f-word and, perplexed and unnerved by the apparent lack of understanding of the meaning of “fascism” – something every post-high schooler should know, if we take to heart the warning that “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it” – and I headed over to Merriam-Webster’s site. And there it was: bumfuzzled, describing perfectly how I felt.

Post-truth, fascism, xenophobia.

Words matter. Could they be canaries in a coal mine – predictors of socio-political shifts, highlighting collective fears and looming crises? This year’s results make me wonder what would have been the WOTY in, say, 1938 Germany, or the earlier, quieter years when these sentiments were still brewing on the back burner.

You cannot be appropriately frightened by something you don’t understand. As much as it pains me that “fascism” and “xenophobia” have regained wide circulation in our national discourse, I’m grateful that people are searching for answers.

Yours truly, one word at a time,