A glossary of 2016: The words that defined the year

LONDON — It's been an eventful year. From Britain voting to leave the European Union to Donald Trump being elected president of the United States. No one can accuse 2016 of being dull. Some words and terms grew in prominence over the past twelve months, some new words were invented and some existing words gathered fresh meaning. Here's a selection of the words that encapsulate 2016.

The words and terms of 2016
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The words and terms of 2016


Alt-right is a term used to described various groups including white supremacists and white nationalists who place an emphasis on "preserving" and "protecting" the white race in the United States. It has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism and exists online in the form of online harassment and hate memes and IRL.

In November, a video published on The Atlantic showed the founder and ideologue of the alt-right Richard B. Spencer (pictured), shouting "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory". It caused heated reaction on social media because of the stark parallel to Holocaust history.

The movement backed President-elect Donald Trump in the presidential election — though Trump himself said he disavows and condemns them.

(Photo via REUTERS/Spencer Selvidge)


On 23 June, Britain voted to leave the European Union by 52 percent to 48 percent. The value of the pound dropped to a 30-year low. Prime Minister David Cameron resigned, the first political casualty in what can arguably described as the year that anti-establishment politics became mainstream. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party and prominent Leave campaigner,hailed to the referendum results as the country's "independence day."

(Photo credit PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)


One of the many verbal mysteries of Donald Trump during the campaign was whether the was saying "bigly" or "big league".

Linguists weighed in. Susan Lin, an assistant linguistics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, posted her definitive answer to the linguist Facebook group Friends of Berkeley Linguistics.

"'Bigly' or 'big league'? The latter, I'm quite sure," Lin said.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Barb (Stranger Things)

Barb's cruel death was certainly one of the most debated TV deaths this year, leading scores ofStranger Things fans to relentlessly ask: will there be justice for Barb?

The Netflix series, created by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, became one of the biggest shows to binge-watch this summer. Taking place in a small town in Indiana in 1983, just after a 12-year-old boy named Will goes missing, the eight-episode series features a top-class child ensemble that quickly sparked a cult following.

Unfortunately, the show's creators confirmed that Barb, last seen dead after a monster snatched her while she was sitting on a pool's diving board, is really dead. Although it looks like she'll get some sort of justice in Stranger Things 2.

(Photo via Netflix)


Coulrophobia is defined as a "rare, extreme or irrational fear of clowns." This summer the fear took reached another level, encompassing all ages and classes across several American states.

Clown sightings started in Greenville, South Carolina, where a group of clowns reportedly tried tolure kids into a thicket of trees outside an apartment complex. Similar sightings trickled up to North Carolina, where a man said he said hechased a clown into a forest with a machete.

From there, the fear of clowns escalated and eventually extended across the pond.

Here's a map of all the sightings.

(Photo via Getty Images)


Dabbing, or the Dab, is an Atlanta-based hip-hop dance that was popularized by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton during his MVP 2015-16 NFL season.

Originally used to describe a form of marijuana use, the word 'dabbing' went on to have a second meaning in 2016.

The dance originated in Atlanta, where a handful of rappers, most notably rap group Migos and frequent collaborators Jose Guapo, Skippa Da Flippa, and PeeWee Longway, popularized dabbing in their music videos and mixtapes.

The dance made its way to social media, where people shared Vines and videos of themselves hitting the dab.

Later in 2016, Newton declared the Dab dead, saying: "I have to put that aside."

(Photo by John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Fake news

After the victory of Donald Trump, Facebook came under fire from the public and the media for its perceived role in helping spread "fake news" in the run-up of the election. Scores of people in locations as remote as Macedonia created fake news sites and churned fake pro-Trump news that sprang up on the platform. In the final three months, fake election news stories created more engagement than top stories from major news outlets.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially said the company "must be extremely cautious about becoming arbiters of truth ourselves" . But then he announced Facebook is looking to implement "better technical systems" to detect fake news, including asking users to help identify misleading stories.


Fake news stories had real-world consequences. In early December, the #Pizzagate hoax led to a gunman firing shots inside the restaurant which was embroiled in the conspiracy. The gunman, 28-year-old, Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, North Carolina, was arrested after entering Comet Ping Pong armed with an assault rifle and firing a shot.

Welch claimed he was investigating conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and campaign chairman John Podesta running a child sex trafficking ring inside of the pizzeria. Though the The New York Times debunked the fake news story back in November, the buzz generated on social media sites continued.

(Photo by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Glass cliff

It's one of the words of the year chosen by Oxford dictionaries. Invented by S. Alexander Haslam and Michelle Ryan, glass cliff is used with reference to a situation in which a woman or member of a marginalized group "ascends to a leadership position in challenging circumstances where the risk of failure is high." The current UK Prime Minister Theresa May fits this description.

(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)


Harambe is the western lowland gorilla who was shot and killed in August after grabbing a 4-year-old boy and dragging him across an exhibit in Cincinnati Zoo.

The incident was criticised online by many who blamed the child's parents and the zoo for Harambe's death. The controversy didn't go away. Three months following Harambe's death, people were still bombarding the zoo with harsh words, petitions and protest memes.

The trolling was so hard that it forced the zoo to delete its social media accounts.

(Photo via REUTERS/Cincinnati Zoo/Handout via Reuters)

Headphone jack

Apple's annual iPhone launch always hits the mobile world like a shiny glass meteor, but the new iPhone 7 had an aftershock that will be felt for years: the removal of the headphone jack.

Despite being a near-universal standard used in devices worldwide, the eminently functional 3.5mm jack couldn't survive Apple's determination to shape the future — one where audio is wireless. In the present, however, cords still rule, and Apple's big move has given us all dongles to lose, essentially mainstreaming inconvenience. (It's also forcing grown adults to say the word "dongle.") Whether you call that courage or hubris, Apple has put a stake in the ground, one other smartphone makers will navigate around, or perhaps trip over, for years to come. —Pete Pachal, Mashable Tech Editor.

(Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Hodor! (Game of Thrones)

Hodor was one of the first TV heartbreaks (and revelations) of this year — and certainly the hardest to forget.

Game of Thrones fans learned the origins of Hodor's one-word vocabulary in a zombie-filled conclusion that ended with the gentle giant being swarmed by a mob of the undead as he held a door to protect Bran.

Hodor = "Hold the Door". This certainly changed the way GoT fans feel about holding the door.


Reports of racist and Islamophobic incidents spiked in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. From June 16-30 reports to police of hate crime went up by 42% to more than 3,000 allegations. The reported crimes were mainly harassment and threats against "visible minorities" as well as people from Eastern Europe.

Twitter users shared racist episodes with #postbrexitracism and #postrefracism. On Facebook, an album called "Worrying Signs" compiled all the incidents.

The burkini ban in some French coastal towns also kept stoking controversy well beyond France's borders. Many people regarded the ban, now overturned in certain municipalities, as sexist, Islamophobic and — most of all — counterproductive to welcoming Muslims into the country. An illustrator from Paris created a guide for bystanders who see Muslims who are being harassed.

In the aftermath of the U.S. election, some Muslim women expressed fear that they may be targeted by hate crimes. Many took to social media to warn Muslim women not to wear the hijab, niqab or burka in public. These fears were validated as women in the U.S. were reportedly the targets of documented hate crimesfollowing Donald Trump's election.

(Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)


According to the Oxford Dictionaries, Latinx was first used in response to an important question around gender identity. How can a language like Spanish, in which nouns and adjectives have grammatical gender, be used in a gender inclusive way?

Latinx replaces the gendered 'a' or 'o' ending with 'x'. It's still uncommon, but widely used on American university campuses.

(Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)


Lemonade was one of the few shiny things in an otherwise grim year. Beyonce's visual album, which debuted in April, is both an ode to black women and a deeply personal love story, told in 11 equally earnest chapters. Some chapters screamed "I came to slay, bitch." Others were so specific and pointed in their anger that some wondered ifJay Z and Beyonce might be getting divorced.

Featuring candidly beautiful verses from Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, the album is a dazzlingly complex work in which pop culture meets spirituality which meets vulnerability. Scenes from the album have become cult, and rightly so, such as the one in which Queen Bey, draped in a yellow gown and gold jewelry, opens double doors to let the water flow on the stairs. After a little boy hands her a baseball bat, Beyonce is off, destroying cars and cameras, smashing open a fire hydrant and twirling in its water.

So powerful was the scene — and the entire album — that theUniversity of Texas at San Antonio decided to offer students the opportunity to sign up for a class called Black Women, Beyoncé & Popular Culture." Students who take the course will spend the semester exploring the singer's visual album, Lemonade, and its relationship to black feminism. Isn't that everyone's dream?

(Photo by Larry Busacca/PW/WireImage For Parkwood Entertainment)

Nasty women

In the final presidential debate, Hillary Clinton, while discussing Donald Trump's tax payments, wasinterrupted by the Republican nominee who said, leaning into the mic: "such a nasty woman".


The phrase, uttered so soon after Trumproundly insisted that no one has more respect for women than him, quickly became a trending hashtag. #NastyWoman took over Twitter and soon became a rallying cry for many women.

Twitter user@thecultureofme even confessed to buying the world's most delightful domain name, NastyWomenGetShitDone.com, then configuring the page to redirect to Hillary Clinton's official website. And Will Ferrell sported a "Nasty Woman" T-shirt in support of the democrat.

(Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Pokemon Go

In a year of unlikely revivals and throwbacks Pokémon Go took the world by storm. It was just the perfect product for those who grew up in the 1990s and had fond childhood memories of the insanely successful Game Boy game. The reason Pokémon Go is so clever, though, is that it's all tied to the real world.

The app tracks your location IRL, which means you hunt and catch Pokémon on the same network of roads and parks that you're walking through in real life. PokéStops (where you stock up on items) are linked to real world places like post offices, and gyms (where you fight rival Pokémon trainers i.e. other people playing the game) are things like churches and train stations in the real world.

Soon after it the app was rolled out, pokémania spread all over the world. And it's not over. On Monday, the official Pokémon Go account shared the exciting news that new Generation II Pokémon have been added to the game.

(Photo by Paula Bronstein/ Getty Images)


The annualOxford Dictionaries "word of the year" can reveal a lot about the world we live in. And this year it's very telling. Post-truth is defined as an adjective "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief". Over the course of 2016, mentions of the word snowballed in the context of Brexit and the US presidential election. Read more about the origins of the word here.

Peach emoji

When Apple released the first beta version of iOS 10.2, many people were furious because of an update on the peach emoji, which looked more like a normal peachand less like a butt. The new peach emoji unfortunately looked a bit more accurate, which means it looked a lot less like a butt — ruining sexting for all.

Thankfully, after some serious internet backlash, Apple appears to have redesigned the emoji to to once again resemble a butt.

(Photo by Hemera Technologies via Getty Images)

Spectacles (Snapchat)

The new smart sunglasses, rolled out in November, offer a whole new experience in snapping, allowing filming from the point of view of the user.

The product is sold in interactive vending machines called Snapbots, in very limited quantities throughout the US. Instead of selling them online or in stores, Snap Inc. is using the vending machine, along with an interactive map, to drive the Spectacles hype train.

Since the launch they've been used everywhere from in the sack to in surgery.

(Photo by Saul Martinez/Bloomberg via Getty Images)


While "post-truth" was Oxford Dictionaries word of the year, "surreal" was Merriam-Webster's 2016 word of the year. Defined by the dictionary as "marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream," "surreal" is a relatively new word in English, having been first included in the dictionary in 1967.

Never before have so many people felt compelled to look it up on their dictionary as they did in 2016. Terrorist attacks in Brussels and Nice and the attempted coup in Turkey were the tragic events that led to a spike in the numbers looking up the word. But the largest spike was after the US election in November.

(Photo credit KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)


From Reddit's CEO to the Royal Family, everyone this year had to deal with the rise of the trolls.

Trolling is a phenomenon as old as the internet and it gained prominence during the U.S. election.

An army of so called "alt-right" trolls was already a significant online force before Americans cast their votes. After Donald Trump was elected president, they made it clear they were not about to go back to the dark corners of the internet from where they came from.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman had his own headaches around the trolls. He infuriated Reddit users after admitting changing abusive posts about him to mention the moderators of Reddit's biggest pro-Trump subreddit, r/the_donald. "I abused my power to give the bullies a hard time," he said.

Even the Royal Family had to deal with the "racist and sexist" trolling of Prince Harry's girlfriend Meghan Markle. In November, Kensington Palace said in a statement that Harry's girlfriend has been subject to a "wave of abuse and harassment".

(Photo by Peter Dazeley via Getty Images)


Woke was used in 2016 in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, often in hashtags like #StayWoke. But its history is much older. As explained by Nicole Holliday in the Oxford Dictionaries blog, the word originated in the black community in the mid 20th century with the meaning of being conscious of social systems of black oppression.

In 1962, woke was listed in a glossary of African American slang with the definition 'well-informed, up-to-date". "By the following decade, we have evidence of it being used in a more explicit political context," Holliday explains.

In a 1972 play entitled Garvey Lives!, author Barry Beckham writes. "I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I'm gon stay woke. And I'm gon help him wake up other black folk"

After the Trayvon Martin killing in 2013 and the Black Lives Matter movement, woke has made a comeback — though sometimes it has been used inappropriately in non-political, comical tweets.

"Woke has been racially sanitized for a mainstream audience. Woke has been removed from its ties to black communities as well as its reference to black consciousness and political movements," says Holliday in her blog.

(Photo credit KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)


So there you have it. A Glossary of 2016. Who knows what words await us next year.

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