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August 2019
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Toxic, misinformation, justice and nomophobia - words that define us

Sometimes it’s better to just not look in the mirror. Let the ugly truth exist without comment and hope it gets better.

That is the feeling we had reading the Words of The Year, chosen by the largest dictionary publishers for 2018. The words that represent 2018 were picked for their widespread use, sudden ubiquity or because the word wranglers felt they captured the mood of the planet. The choices are pessimistic but not inappropriate.

Oxford Dictionaries selected toxic as their word of the year; chose misinformation; Merriam Webster went with justice and Cambridge Dictionary got all obscure by picking nomophobia. 

Each of the dictionaries offered reasons for their selection. Here is the gist of their comments:


Toxic – As most people know this is a word meaning poisonous. In explaining their selection the Oxford Dictionary folks said toxic is now being used to describe an array of events, emotions and situations. And their explanation noted it “reflect [s] the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”

Their website ( saw a 45 percent increase in searches for  toxic over the past year and the metaphorical use of the word has become standard in phrases like toxic relationships or toxic environment.


Misinformation – Appropriately for the online, they chose this word for the rampant spread of misinformation and the new challenges it poses. As one speaker on a video about their selection states, “we have gone past the age of information and are now stalled in the age of misinformation.” defines misinformation as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” 


Justice – 74 percent more searches for  justice than in 2017 led Merriam Webster to select this word. They explained that searches spiked following media reports where the word and concept were at the center of debates and was used in conjunctions with “economic justice, racial justice, social justice and criminal justice.”  

Justice also popped up a lot as an abbreviation for the  Department of Justice, including several Tweets by the president, which saw dictionary searches follow.

The dictionary spokesman noted that justice might seem like a common word but familiar words for abstract concepts are among the most looked up words. Merriam Webster defines justice as  - “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.”


Nomophobia – The British dictionary went 180 degrees opposite Merriam Webster by choosing a very unfamiliar word that describes a very common condition. Nomophobia means - “fear or worry at the idea of being without your mobile phone or unable to use it.”

Nomophobia was chosen through a poll conducted by the dictionary. In announcing the top choice, the Cambridge editors stated, “Your choice, nomophobia, tells us that people around the world probably experience this type of anxiety enough that you recognized it needed a name!”

They also explained that the unease of being without a cell phone isn’t technically a phobia as it lacks the extreme fear of a true phobia.

According to their announcement, the word is a “blend” created by combining No Mo[bile] phobia. While it may seem new, their research found nomophobia used in records as early as 2008 and was added to the Cambridge online dictionary earlier this year.

Toxic, justice, misinformation and a  phobia that most of us have regarding our cell - not a cheery reflection of the past year. 

Here’s hoping that 2019 choices will be words like happy, healthy and wisdom.