‘Toxic’ is Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year

“Toxic” expanded its reach in 2018, with people using it to describe a variety of things.
Petros Karadjias/Associated Press

It’s official: 2018 is toxic.

Well, lexicographically speaking, at least. Oxford Dictionaries has chosen “toxic” as its international word of the year, selecting it from a shortlist that included such politically inflected contenders as “gaslighting,” “incel” and “techlash.”

Katherine Connor Martin, the company’s head of U.S. dictionaries, said there had been a marked uptick of interest in the word on its website over the past year. But the word was chosen less for statistical reasons, she said, than for the sheer variety of contexts in which it has proliferated, from conversations about environmental poisons to laments about today’s poisonous political discourse to the #MeToo movement, with its calling out of “toxic masculinity.”

In fact, Martin said, the committee initially considered choosing “toxic masculinity,” until it realized how widespread “toxic” itself had become.

“So many different things,” she said, “are tied together by the word.”

Oxford’s word of the year is chosen to reflect “the ethos, mood or preoccupations” of a particular year, but also to highlight that English is always changing. Last year’s winner, to the consternation of many, was “youthquake.” In 2016, it was “post-truth.”

“Toxic” derives from the Greek “toxikon pharmakon,” meaning “poison for arrows.” (The part of the phrase meaning arrows, rather than poison, became the basis for the word.) The current entry in the online Oxford English Dictionary dates its earliest known printed occurrence to 1664, in a book about forests.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Jennifer Schuessler