Now the dust has settled on another eventful year, it’s time to look back on some of the words that characterised 2022.
In December, we announced goblin mode as our Word of the Year for 2022, decided by public vote for the first time ever. A type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations, goblin mode captured imaginations globally, with Stephen King joining in on Twitter, a discussion on the Late Late Show with James Corden, and online conversations spanning Europe, Asia, and America. While the lifting of pandemic restrictions was a relief for many, for some people, the social pressures like going out and returning to the office that came along with it were less welcome, and the idea of goblin mode captured a desire to escape those pressures as society returned to a new and different “normal.”
But when our experts analysed our corpus of 19 billion words, as well as finding candidates for the 2023 Word of the Year, they also looked at trends in how certain words were used at different points throughout the year.
Over this series of articles, we will take a month-by-month look at the words—excluding the three candidates for Word of the Year: goblin mode, metaverse, and #IStandWith—that captured a moment and saw peaks in usage in 2022.
From existing words that surged in popularity, like booster and queue, to brand-new words, such as Platty Joobs, and others making a comeback (did you know the word partygate was first used in the 1990s?), the language we use can tell us a lot about the last 12 months, the issues that have resonated, and the experiences we have shared.
Cast your mind back to this time last year and it was COVID-19 vaccinations that dominated the headlines. Our Word of the Year for 2021 was vax, and this conversation rumbled on into the New Year, with healthcare at the forefront of our minds in the wake of the pandemic and continuing to shape the language we use.
With that in mind, our experts have chosen booster as the word that best represents January 2022.
By no means a new word, booster was first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 1890, with the sense “a dose or injection of a substance that increases or prolongs the effectiveness of an earlier dose or injection” first recorded in 1950.
It experienced a spike in frequency in December 2021 and January 2022 and was used more than 12 times more frequently in January 2022 than the same time the previous year.
Unsurprisingly, this increase in usage was caused by the push to ensure people across the world had received a booster jab of the COVID-19 vaccine. We can see this from looking at the other words used near booster. In January 2021, these showed the variety of its uses: morale booster and rocket booster for instance, alongside vaccine-related terms such as booster dose. In January 2022, however, while other uses were still prevalent, they were overwhelmed by vaccine-related terms, such as receive a booster, eligible for a booster, booster programme, and many others.
From a well-known word that exploded in use to a hardly-known word bursting back onto the scene, our word for February is monobob.
Monobob is the first-ever female-only Winter Olympic sport, introduced at the Winter Olympics last year in Beijing. It is a solo version of bobsleigh, and it has significantly increased women’s participation in the sport.
Usage of the term monobob can be dated back to at least the 1930s in reference to a one-person bobsleigh. A dramatic entry in The Daily Telegraph on 18th January 1935 commented:
“The mishap occurred at a turn. Mr. Dugdale was on a mono-bob and it was noticed that he took the turn wrongly. His bob swung rapidly from side to side and he was thrown off.”
But the inaugural Olympic monobob competition led to a spike in usage of the term, with monobob used almost 12 times as much in February 2022 than February 2021.
The term monobob was used all around the world, but we saw two nations adopt the term more than others: Canada and Jamaica. The spike in Jamaican usage reflects the popularity of bobsled sports on the island nation: the unexpected entry of a Jamaican team in the 1988 Winter Olympics inspired the 1993 film Cool Runnings. Over 30 years later, Jamaica remains one of only three Caribbean nations to send bobsled teams regularly to the Winter Olympics, qualifying for a record three competitions last year, and sending Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian to compete in the new monobob event. The increase in Canadian usage might reflect the fact that Canada’s Christine de Bruin took Bronze in Bejing, coming behind US gold and silver medallists in the new event.
Following the country’s invasion by Russian forces at the end of previous month, the word for March unsurprisingly was Ukraine.
The word Ukraine was used over 75 times more frequently in March 2022 than the previous year, and over 5.5 times more frequently in March 2022 than February 2022.
There is no denying that this spike in usage was due to the invasion, as shown by a number of other words experiencing an uplift in usage, relating both to the situation—invasion, invade, bombardment, besieged, unprovoked, and war-torn—and the international reaction—humanitarian, sanction, and oligarch.
In the past, the name Ukraine was frequently used in English with the definite article—the Ukraine—but this usage decreased after the country gained independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. Usage of the Ukraine, in proportion to overall uses of Ukraine, dropped further from March last year as the media and the public took conscious action to avoid using Russo-centric language to describe the region—a trend also seen with the media (for the most part) referring to the capital using the Ukrainian Kyiv rather than the Russian Kiev.
That’s all for this first instalment of the year in words. Keep an eye on the blog as we explore the rest of 2022 in words, including partygate, monkeypox, and more…