Live Well, Do Good

One Last Look at a Wild and Wacky Year for Words

Brandon Sun, December 26, 2016 - David McConkey

What a year for words! Those that stood out for me in 2016 were new words heard for the first time, ancient words making a reacquaintance, and innovative words for the reality of Donald Trump. 

What are the buzzwords, the jargon, the catchphrases of our time? I could write two paragraphs filled to incomprehensibility with such expressions – so I did. You're welcome! To wit:

Bully for 2016, this disruptive, surreal year! It’s unprecedented: from politics to the fentanyl crisis. Let’s drill down, or take the 30,000-foot view, and unpack the current narrative. Or we could try a thought experiment, 10X our vocabulary, troll people, or even start a new dank meme!

Trumpian trigger warnings ahead: alt-right, fake news, safe spaces and conspiracy theories. Seriously, Trump’s win has been called – like, literally – the worst episode ever of Black Mirror! We might have to break Godwin's law or even smash the Overton window! Sad!
Befuddled? Here is my guide to some of today’s terminology. (I hope this is a curated list, not just a word salad!)

It’s all Greek to me! I refer to the words employed to get a handle on the Trump era, like narcissist, demagogue, misogynist, homophobia, plutocracy, kleptocracy and kakistocracy. The website chose another Greek contender as their word of the year: xenophobia.

The infamous Access Hollywood tape exposed us to Trump’s language lewdness. But the really bad words were not the terms themselves, but their context. Like when Trump said about a married woman whom he targeted sexually: “I moved on her.” The most crude Trump four-letter word? “Grab.”

Every since the days of yore, we have been drawn to legends, myths and stories. Today we understand more about how much our thinking is framed by the narratives we tell ourselves. And by the persuasive narratives told to us by the corporate and other elites. Associated concepts are confirmation bias, filter bubble, echo chamber, and “imagined reality” from the book Sapiens.

Right now, two sets of narratives are keeping us spellbound. The first are the narratives being spun by the real-life show “Trumpworld.” The other? The narratives being spun by the HBO TV show Westworld!

A decade ago, the dishonesty of the George W. Bush administration was called out by the comedian Stephen Colbert. “Truthiness” was the word Colbert coined to signify a trust in feelings rather than facts. Today Trump is similarly creating his own reality based on emotion, not evidence. No surprise that Oxford English Dictionaries announced that their word of the year was post-truth.

Americans – and indeed everyone – can be sucked into Trump’s false reality. A disturbing situation can be normalized. A term from the field of domestic abuse is making its way into common parlance: gaslighting. This describes how an abuser manipulates their spouse into doubting their own perceptions and even their own sanity. (The expression comes from Gaslight, a 1944 movie starring Ingrid Bergman, which had the theme of spousal abuse.)

Perhaps today’s teenagers are most able to detect such abuse. A recent article in Teen Vogue magazine has gone viral because it says it all: “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.”

Many of the year’s prominent words invite us to explore issues more deeply – no matter how uncomfortable or controversial. Islamophobia is different. The use of this made-up word aims to shut down any questioning or criticism of the religion of Islam. Dispense with such shibboleths of political correctness! Discussion is good.

Last year, the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission highlighted culture with its charge of cultural genocide in Indian residential schools. Culture emerged this year when concerns were raised about immigration and assimilation during the Brexit and U.S. elections.

Watch for culture talk to continue, like during the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, as well as in the Conservative party leadership contest. Also around hot button issues like refugees, race, cultural appropriation, multiculturalism and “Canadian values.” 
New words, new narratives, new realities. Next year looks quite daunting. Language will continue to play a big part. “I know words,” Trump says. “I have the best words.”

To flourish, we will need to rely on all of our wits, on all of our wisdom, and on all of our words.

* * * 

See also:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind on     (on

We Must Resist the Trump Culture – Here's How

Takeaways From Trump’s Unbelievable Victory

Deepening Our Thinking in the Internet Age: Ten Tips

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