Data collected by editors at Oxford Dictionaries revealed a huge increase in usage of the word in 2017 compared with 2016. The British election called by Prime Minister Theresa May in early June is believed to have caused a spike in usage. Britain saw a huge turnout of young voters hoping to make an impact as they rallied behind Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Guardian and other publications dubbed their collective actions a “youthquake.”
The word “youthquake” may be the winner for 2017, but it is not new. It was coined in 1965 by Vogue Editor Diana Vreeland, who used it to highlight changes young people drove in the fashion and music industries.
Despite having deep political and cultural roots in 2017, the winning word was met with a wave of skepticism on social media.
“I run a charity for young people. This is not a word that I have ever heard used. Anywhere. By Anyone. ,” tweeted Ruth Ibegbuna, chief executive of a youth leadership and social change organization in Britain.
“So, 'Youthquake' is Oxford English Dictionaries word of the year. Never heard it being said, no idea what it means ... must have missed the memo on this one,” wrote another baffled Twitter user.
While some mocked the winning word, others pointed out that “youthquake” was the title of a 1985 album from British pop group Dead or Alive.
So how exactly is the word of the year decided?
The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, selected annually since 2004, is a tradition many look forward to. Winners are picked for their “lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.”
“We try to choose a word that reminds us about where we've been,” said Casper Grathwohl, president of the Dictionaries Division. “Sometimes, our choice is serious, other times playful.” Each year, the winning word is expected to reflect the mood or ethos of the past 12 months.
“ ‘Youthquake’ is not an obvious choice,” Grathwohl wrote in a blog post. He added that the word has “yet to land firmly on American soil, but strong evidence in the U.K. … calls it out as a word on the move.” Oxford Dictionaries states that the political word offers a beacon of hope after a “difficult and divisive year.”
Just two years ago, Oxford sparked controversy after selecting “pictograph.” Many were confused that the word of the year was not a word but an emoji — the face with tears of joy, to be precise.
Other words that made this year's shortlist include: milkshake duck, white fragility, unicorn, kompromat, broflake, newsjacking, gorpcore and antifa.
Past winners include post-truth (2016), vape (2014) and selfie (2013).