Another year gone by, another chance to reflect on our society’s lexicon. While Merriam-Webster officially crowned “gaslight” as their word of the year, Oxford University Press, the publishers behind the Oxford English Dictionary, is paying homage to some edgier internet slang: goblin mode.
“Goblin mode” is a “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations,” according to Oxford’s press release announcing the word of the year. Kari Paul of The Guardian argued in March that goblin mode first entered our zeitgeist during the onset of the covid-19 pandemic, when people across the world were forced to stay home and live their most reclusive lives where they may embrace the “comforts of depravity” with a “complete lack of aesthetic.” Now, it’s Oxford University Press’ 2022 Word of the Year.
“Goblin Mode really does speak to the times and the zeitgeist, and it is certainly a 2022 expression,” said Ben Zimmer at the Oxford Word of the Year announcement, who was quoted in the company’s press release. Zimmer is an American linguist, writer, and lexicographer—someone who compiles dictionaries. “People are looking at social norms in new ways. It gives people the license to ditch social norms and embrace new ones.”
Oxford’s Word of the Year doesn’t have to be a word, per se, but it can be any word, expression, or series of words that have been popularized in 2022. The publishing company said in a press release that 300,000 people cast their vote in this year’s poll, but in the past, Oxford University Press lexicographers have determined the title themselves. Oxford says the first instance of goblin mode can be traced back to 2009 Twitter, but the term exploded in popularity on the Internet in February 2022 with a peak that spring—the publication of The Guardian’s article during that time helps solidify this trend.
As we integrate the digital world deeper and deeper into our own, we will continue to see the effects of that relationship through sources such as this one. Merriam-Webster’s word of the year, “gaslight,” was likely born out of social media’s affinity for watering down terms of abuse and mental health, which was prevalent on TikTok this year.