2017 Word of the year? 'Youthquake'

Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times, Dec 30 2017, 21:09 IST
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The former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland apparently coined 'youthquake' in the 1960s, to describe the youth culture of Swinging London.

Merriam-Webster chose 'feminism'. Dictionary.com went 'complicit', while Cambridge Dictionary anointed 'populism'. Now, Oxford Dictionaries is announcing that its international Word of the Year for 2017 is 'youthquake'?

'Youthquake' - defined as a 'significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people' - triumphed over a politically pointed shortlist that included 'Antifa', 'broflake', 'kompromat', 'fragility' and 'Milkshake Duck'.

Katherine Connor Martin, the head of Oxford's new words programme, acknowledged that it was an unusual choice.

The former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland apparently coined 'youthquake' in the 1960s, to describe the youth culture of Swinging London, and it maintained a modest if somewhat retro currency in conversations about style. But in the past year, its frequency increased about 400%, according to the analysis of the Oxford English Corpus, which collects roughly 150 million words of spoken and written English from various sources each month.

It surged first in coverage of the British parliamentary elections in June, when a spike in voting by young people helped deal a blow to the Conservative Party, before spreading to political commentary in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and elsewhere.

"It has a very neat symmetry," Martin said. "It originally referred to changes in fashion caused by baby boomers coming of age. Now, we're seeing it emerge in an electoral politics context, as millennials displace the baby boomers."

Dictionaries are supposed to provide objective information about how words are used, Martin emphasised, not to weigh in on contemporary issues.

But Oxford, in its announcement, did allow that 'youthquake' is the rare emerging political term that sounds a 'hopeful note.'


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