• Reading Level 5
English | Science | Geography | PSHE

Ze, toxic, single-use: words that defined 2018

What do they tell us about the year? Environmental catastrophe, extreme politics and gender relations… The dictionaries’ words of 2018 reveal a world battling division and destruction. "For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice." So wrote the poet T.S. Eliot, but what kind of language was 2018's? As the end draws in, the flurry of dictionaries releasing their "words of the year" can give us a clue. "Ze", the gender-neutral substitute for "he" or "she", has been selected by Scrabble. Officials predict it will prove popular with players, being short and high-scoring. But the choice is also topical in a year of fierce debate around trans rights and whether people should be able to choose their own gender. Oxford Dictionaries' choice for word of the year, "toxic", also links to a shake-up of gender relations since the #MeToo scandal. It is often used to talk about "toxic masculinity", which describes rigid stereotypes of male behaviour that campaigners say contribute to sex-based violence and high male suicide rates. Equally, the political landscape from Brexit to Trump is dominated by "toxic" debate and violent rhetoric, which many fear is making politics more extreme and polarisedSeparated in their views by a great distance, as the North and South Poles are separated geographically.. "[It is] the sheer scope of its application that has made it the standout choice," Oxford said. Again focusing on an unstable political climate, Dictionary.com opted for "misinformation". This is when people unknowingly share fake news (a 2017 word of the year) stories on social media. Our fears over the threat fake news poses to democracy are unlikely to go away, as better technology gives rise to deep fakesWhen AI is used to make convincing fake video, audio and images.. "Single-use" was Collins Dictionary's word of the year. Since Blue Planet II screened last year, the environmental impact of single-use plastics has been top of the agenda. Cambridge Dictionary's choice is "Nomophobia", the fear of being without your phone. It's a reminder that screens increasingly dominate our lives, and 53% of us suffer from it. Words of the year always reflect the trends of their time. The first such contest in 1990 was won by "bushlips" - a reference to George H.W. Bush. Other examples include "911" in 2001 and David Cameron's "big society" in 2010. Do 2018's words paint a bleak picture? Toxic legacy Obviously, say some. These words highlight all the troubling currents of 2018: sexual harassment, fake news, political extremism, a ruined planet... They show us that the world around us is a threatening and more unstable place. Think again, respond others. "Ze" shows we are realising that we must rethink gender roles for the 21st century, while the focus on "single-use" products shows we are waking up to the threat of plastic pollution. By recognising these words, we can see that society is aware of the challenges and is working towards a brighter future. KeywordsPolarised - Separated in their views by a great distance, as the North and South Poles are separated geographically.

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