The contenders for Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 Word of the Year included adulting, alt-right, Brexiteer, and woke, but the winner is one that fully encapsulates what a clusterf**k the year has been: post-truth.
Oxford Dictionaries 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.” Although the concept isn’t new, usage of the term spiked in 2016 thanks to Brexit in the UK and the presidential election in the US.
The selection marks a departure from past words of the year, which often took a more irreverent tone. Previous winners include unfriend, GIF, and last year’s controversial choice: the ‘crying with laughter’ emoji.
“It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly charged political and social discourse,” Casper Grathwohl, Oxford Dictionaries’ president, said in an essay on the company’s website. “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.”
Many have compared the word to Stephen Colbert’s truthiness, which was the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year 11 years ago: “the belief in what you feel to be true rather than what the facts support.” Colbert himself noted the similarity, claiming he was “pre-enraged” at the selection of post-truth as 2016’s preeminent word.
“First of all, post-truth is not a word of the year, it’s the two words of the year, hyphens are for the weak,” the Late Show host quipped in this clip. “Second, post-truth is clearly just a ripoff of my 2006 word of the year, truthiness.”
Ripoff or not, Oxford Dictionaries is confident post-truth will have a long shelf life, because it describes “a general characteristic of our age.” Grathwohl even claimed he “wouldn’t be surprised if ‘post-truth’ becomes one of the defining words of our time.”
“We choose words that are going to highlight the interplay between our words and our culture,” said Katherine Martin, the head of US dictionaries for Oxford University Press. The final word of the year is the one that best captures the “ethos, mood or preoccupations of that particular year” and has “lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.”
Watch the official OED explainer of post-truth below.