2016 in four words

Dec 31, 2016 12.00PM |

by Tan Chu Chze

THE year 2016 has been nothing short of crappy. Not that no good things have happened, but plenty of crazy things occupy our consciousness simply because they don’t make sense. And this is made obvious from the way we are choosing our words. Here are four words that have taken over our minds:


Oxford’s choice of word of the year are usually interesting ones. Last year’s was an emoticon. This year’s is ‘post-truth‘. The reason they seem like strange and novel choices is because they are also strange and novel words. Oxford Dictionary keeps track of words that people use – online and off – and takes note of words that spike in frequency. ‘Post-truth’ has become significant to our vocabulary that way.

It refers to circumstances where the objective ‘truth’ is no longer as important as subjective feelings. In definition, that sounds a lot like ‘populism’, which is probably the main impetus of the rise in the word ‘post-truth’. Yet, there remains a significant difference between the two words.

‘Post-truth’ appears to take ‘populism‘ to the next level. While ‘populism’ describes people voting irrationally, ‘post-truth’ bluntly posits that people are irrational. It is as if the word is playfully, yet ominously, ushering a new age in human development where logic and reason are suspended. How true is that? We’ll have to wait for 2017 to find out. But, it definitely deserves a place on the list as it seems indicative of a paradigm shift.

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Also known as the fear, hatred, or dislike of anyone or anything foreign. Unlike Oxford Dictionary, Dictionary.com selected this word based on user searches, meaning a heckuva lot of people looked up ‘xenophobia‘ on their site. People seemed most interested in the word around June this year, following Brexit.

What this means is that people generally wanted to understand or clarify the meaning of ‘xenophobia’. The word itself isn’t new or particularly rare in public use, but the fact that it was searched so many times shows that people were becoming more conscious of it. Perhaps other people are using it more in everyday speech, or are hearing it in the news more often… but what is certain is that we want to know its meaning.

‘Xenophobia’ finds its place on this list because it gives name to the demon that possesses our society. It has spawned other monsters, such as populism and terrorism and let loose the biggest monster of all, chaos.


Merriam-Webster’s offering takes a similar approach to Dictionary.com – it selected ‘surreal‘ for an unusually high number of searches on its site. The searches had three significant surges this year. They were during the Brussels terror attacks in March, the Turkish coup and Nice attacks in July, and finally the US presidential elections in November.

While these events are undoubtedly real, they felt surreal, which is the feeling of intense irrational reality of a dream. If that is the case, 2016 is nothing short of a nightmare the world is waiting to wake up from.

Of course, not all surreal moments are reflective of bad ones. Joseph Schooling’s gold at the Olympics is a clear (good) dream come true. At least for Singapore lah huh. However, other moments like the seemingly unrelenting list of celebrity deaths easily overshadow that joy. If anything, the interest in the word ‘surreal’ shows that this year has been especially difficult to make sense of, even after finding the meaning of the word.

Here’s our take on the word applied to Singapore.


If one could personify everything that is post-truth, xenophobic and surreal, it would have to be – unquestionably – Trump. His name encapsulates the irony that pervades 2016: literally meaning “to win”, but really representing a loss. Donald Trump continues to defy common sense, being a businessman to take US presidency while having the unpopular vote. Completely unpresidented unprecedented.

And for being vacuous and polarising yet absolutely and unpalatably irresistible, Trump was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. He is so hard to ignore, and on that virtue alone ‘trump’ finds a place on this list whether we like it or not.


Featured image “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”Helen Keller by Flickr user Kate Ter Haar. (CC BY 2.0) 

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