Caution: ‘Misinformation’ literally included below
In the hit song by The Police, “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da,” Sting wrote, “Poets, priests and politicians have words to thank for their positions.” Indeed. Journalists do, too, and the handful of us who ply our trade for modest livelihoods here in Southern Maryland keep our antennae up for any unusual twists and turns of phrase.
Given the constant state of flux and expansion of English, it should come as no surprise that one estimate now puts the number of words in the language at about 1.1 million. Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary would take at least a quarter-million off that total, but suffice it to say, there are a lot of words from which to choose to communicate in English.
And Dictionary.com, for at least two decades now the paladin of American expression, recently revealed its word of the year for 2018. That word is “misinformation,” defined by the site as meaning “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.”
But let’s be careful not to equate that with “disinformation,” defined by Dictionary.com as “deliberately leading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.”
In these times of “fake news” and implications of such, it’s easy to see how “misinformation” could gain some traction in popular culture. Considered next to the site’s words of the year for the past two cycles — “complicit” and “xenophobia” (an irrational fear or dislike of foreigners) — it shows Dictionary. com’s effort to capture the spirit of the day even more so than the frequency of a word’s use.
Oxford’s entry for 2018 word of the year is “toxic.” Like the Dictionary.com choice and Merriam-Webster’s nod to “justice” as its word of 2018, it’s meant to express the mood, ethos or general social preoccupations of the year, or something that could have potential for a term of lasting cultural significance. But the Oxford choice has a bit of statistical science to it. The OED noted a 45 percent increase in how often “toxic” was looked up on its website, which noted how the term was used in a number of literal and metaphorical senses. Oxford referred to a top 10 list of collates — or terms habitually used with — “toxic.” It was paired most often with “chemical,” “masculinity” (reflecting the #MeToo movement) and “substance.”
Merriam-Webster said “justice” was looked up 74 percent more often in 2018 than the year before. It noted that in conjunction with its societal meanings (racial justice, criminal justice, economic justice, etc.), lookups on its website had do with with the U.S. Department of Justice (certainly in the news a lot in 2018 with all of the federal hearings and investigations), as well as in reference to the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings prior to his becoming the newest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Going hand in hand with the words of the year from those three sources is what The Marist Poll deemed — for the 10th consecutive year — as the most annoying term in English: “whatever.” Overall in the country, a plurality of 36 percent of those surveyed found it to be the most annoying word or phrase in American speech.
But get this: While “whatever” seems most reviled by those 30 and older, a plurality of those younger than 30 were most annoyed by the word “literally” (presumably its misuse, as in: “I literally died when I heard the news”).
So in 2019, stay alert with us for what words will stick out. But always know that you will not see misinformation in The Calvert Recorder.
And we will continue to report when toxic elements in our community are brought to justice.