The Ox­ford Word of the Year 2018 is 'Toxic'

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

The Ox­ford Word of the Year is a word or ex­pres­sion that is judged to re­flect the ethos, mood, or pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of the pass­ing year, and have last­ing po­ten­tial as a term of cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance.

In 2018, toxic added many strings to its poi­soned bow be­com­ing an in­tox­i­cat­ing de­scrip­tor for the year's most talked about topics. It is the sheer scope of its ap­pli­ca­tion, as found by our re­search, that made toxic the stand­out choice for the Word of the Year ti­tle.

Our data shows that, along with a 45% rise in the num­ber of times it has been looked up on ox­ford­dic­tionar­, over the last year the word toxic has been used in an ar­ray of con­texts, both in its lit­eral and more metaphor­i­cal senses.

The top ten “toxic” col­lo­cates from our cor­pus in 2018 (by ab­so­lute fre­quency) are; chem­i­cal, mas­culin­ity, sub­stance, gas, en­vi­ron­ment, re­la­tion­ship, cul­ture, waste, al­gae, air.

Beyond the more usual sub­stance warn­ings, this year toxic chem­i­cal has had par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance as the nerve agent poi­son­ing of a for­mer Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer and his daugh­ter in Bri­tain sent shock­waves around the globe. On­go­ing in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion to the case, in­clud­ing ris­ing con­cern over who has ac­cess to the world's toxic chem­i­cal stock­piles, en­sured that “chem­i­cal” topped the list.

Sim­i­larly lit­eral and deadly are toxic sub­stance, toxic gas, and toxic waste, with the lat­ter es­pe­cially be­com­ing a fo­cal point as the US seeks to com­bat the spread of toxic waste in the wake of hur­ri­canes and peo­ple speak out against busi­nesses burn­ing toxic waste, no­tably in In­dia. Air pol­lu­tion has rapidly be­come a prime pub­lic health con­cern, and global at­ten­tion reached a high in Oc­to­ber 2018 when the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion pub­lished its re­port into the qual­ity of air breathed by chil­dren world­wide. The re­port de­scribed this pol­lu­tion as toxic air, plainly and po­tently sig­ni­fy­ing its poi­sonous na­ture, and with the aid of in­ter­na­tional me­dia cov­er­age, served to con­sol­i­date the as­so­ci­a­tion of tox­i­c­ity and poor air qual­ity in our lex­i­con.

One of the many en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues dis­cussed this year has been the toxic al­gae dis­as­ter in Florida, US. Thanks to a cen­tral role in the state's Se­nate mid-terms race, toxic al­gae gar­nered much com­men­tary.

The term toxic en­vi­ron­ment it­self, how­ever, has been more fre­quently used in ref­er­ence to harm­ful work­place en­vi­ron­ments and the toll this takes on the work­force's men­tal health. From overly de­mand­ing work­loads to out­right sex­ual ha­rass­ment, many com­pa­nies have been ex­posed as cru­cibles for such toxic cul­ture this year, which has seen the Speaker of the House of Com­mons ac­cused of mis­us­ing his of­fi­cial pow­ers to cover up al­le­ga­tions of bul­ly­ing in West­min­ster.

Toxic re­la­tion­ships are not ex­clu­sive to the work­place, how­ever, and whether its part­ners, par­ents, or even politi­cians, this year has seen so much dis­cus­sion of "poi­sonous'" re­la­tion­ships across our so­ci­ety that "re­la­tion­ship" is the sixth most-seen toxic topic for 2018. One re­oc­cur­ring el­e­ment in such dis­cus­sions has been toxic mas­culin­ity.

With the #MeToo move­ment putting a crossin­dus­try spot­light on toxic mas­culin­ity, and wa­ter­shed po­lit­i­cal events like the Brett Ka­vanaugh Se­nate ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee hear­ing spark­ing in­ter­na­tional de­bate, the term toxic mas­culin­ity has well and truly taken root in the pub­lic con­scious­ness and got peo­ple talk­ing in 2018.

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