The Oxford Dictionary, after a tumultous year of political exaggeration and media distortion, has chosen “Post-Truth” as its Word of the Year.
In making the announcement, Casper Grathwohl, President of the Global Business Development & Dictionaries Division at Oxford University Press, predicted that “post-truth” could become “one of the defining words of our time.” Grathwohl added,
“Fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.”
The dictionary defines “post-truth” as
“Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
I’ve got to say that the Oxford Dictionary has hit the nail on the head. This is a definition which affirms the feelings of transgender individuals over the scientific reality of “x” and “y” chromosomes, and ranks “feelings” over objective truth when college students retreat to their “safe spaces” complaining of racism and inequality and gender discrimination.
Although the term “post-truth” first came into use back in 1992, Oxford Dictionaries calculated a 2,000% uptick in the number of usages of “post-truth” in 2016. The concept gained momentum after the Brexit vote in June, surged again when Donald J. Trump was nominated to the Republican ticket, and continued throughout the campaign season. The prevalence of inaccurate allegations based on “feelings” and biased media reports required a vigorous response from Fact-Checker websites, which attempted (often unsuccessfully) to restore a modicum of accuracy to public discourse.
“Post-truth” beat out other contenders this year including:
- Adulting – The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks
- Alt-right – An ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content
- Brexiteer – A person who is in favor of the UK withdrawing from the European Union
- Coulrophobia – Extreme or irrational fear of clowns
While “post-truth” is an unfortunate bellwether, spotlighting the decline in accurate, unbiased reporting by major American news outlets, that “fear of clowns” thing is a real issue, too—not only in the forests of Greenville, South Carolina, where the clown phenomenon had its start, and around the country, but also among low-information voters and those who derive their “news” from Oprah and The View and various Hollywood starlets. It’s a problem among the “wounded” student activists and others who feel the need to shield their ears from words or ideas they don’t want to hear. The remedy might be accelerated political science courses for all, an uptick of serious political discourse in the public square—or simply turning off the TV and opening a good book.
As further evidence that the level of intellectual discourse has devolved, in 2015 for the first time the “Word of the Year” was not a word at all, but rather, a pictograph. The “face with tears of joy emoji” nudged out competitors to become the most popular “word” of the year.
And what do I think about this weakening and simplification of the popular vocabulary?