Toxic is Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2018

Due to the sheer scope of the application of the word, toxic has become the stand-out choice for the Oxford Word of the Year.

Toxic is Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2018

Toxic (adjective): Poisonous; relating to or caused by poison; very bad, unpleasant, or harmful

Toxic is the word of the year as announced by Oxford. The literal definition of the word is ‘poisonous’ and has its origins in Greek (toxikon pharmakon) translating to ‘poison for arrows’ it has become an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics.

The word has been ever-present in its literal sense, with discussions about the health of our communities, our environment with ‘toxic substance’, ‘toxic gas’, ‘toxic environment, ‘toxic waste, ‘toxic algae and ‘toxic air’ with even ‘toxic slime’ making the headlines along with the discussion of the toxicity of plastics.


Along with the literal sense of the word, data shows that people have used the word for describing workplaces, schools, relationships, cultures, as well as stress. The #MeToo movement has discussed ‘toxic masculinity’ and the word has also been used to the rhetoric, policies, agendas and legacies of leaders and governments across the globe.

The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that reflects the passing year in language. Every year, while the team discusses over a number of words for Word of the Year, it chooses the one that describes the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that year. Due to the sheer scope of the application of the word, toxic has become the stand-out choice for the Oxford Word of the Year.

Oxford Word of the Year shortlist

This list includes words that have been coined this year as well along with the older words that have taken on new meaning or resonance in 2018. The following are the shortlisted words for Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2018


An attitude of understated and casual confidence

BDE became the 2018 descriptor du jour after an exchange on Twitter in June captured the online community’s imagination.

Ariana Grande, in a now-deleted tweet, appeared to comment on the physical endowment of her then-fiancé, Pete Davidson. Amid the flurry of responses, Twitter user @babyvietcong used the phrase ‘exudes big dick energy’ in a joking character analysis of Davidson and the tweet went viral.

The term appears to have been coined by Twitter user @imbobswaget, who published a tweet eulogizing chef Anthony Bourdain, identifying him as a possessor of ‘big dick energy’. In doing so, @imbobswaget put a name to this phenomenon and, together with @babyvietcong, inspired a host of commentary speculating as to who, truly, exudes BDE. BDE is not exclusive to men; many women, such as Rihanna, Serena Williams, and Cate Blanchett, are among those identified as having this low-key, self-assured poise.


Cakeism is the belief that it is possible to enjoy or take advantage of both of two desirable but mutually exclusive alternatives at once.

Though ‘cake’ has become the enduring metaphor for discussion of the terms under which Great Britain will leave the European Union over the past two years, 2018 has seen the neologism Cakeism come into its own.

While earlier examples can be found, the first known use of Cakeism in a political context is claimed by Bonnie Greer, a writer for The New European, whose article ‘The delusions of Cakeism’ was published in September 2017. Since then, Cakeism has become the go-to critique for Britain’s negotiating position, with one senior EU official calling Theresa May’s 2 March 2018 speech on Britain’s future economic partnership with the EU ‘still in the world of Cakeism’.


Typically used in the UK as a derogatory term for an older middle-class white man whose face becomes flushed due to anger when expressing political (typically right-wing) opinions.

Gammon has had something of a renaissance in 2018. Thanks to parallels drawn between the fleshy, pink meat and the visages of older, white men flushed in anger, gammon has become a derogatory term in political circles.

Its usage can be traced back to the 2017 UK general election when children’s author Ben Davis jokingly tweeted a photoset of nine men from the audience of BBC panel show Question Time calling it ‘this Great Wall of gammon.’

The term was picked up by left-wing activists and, in May 2018 gathered steam with Davis’ relatively old tweet gaining thousands of retweets, propelling the insult into the mainstream consciousness and gaining widespread media coverage.


The action of manipulating someone by psychological means into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity.

Gaslighting comes from the 1938 play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton in which a man manipulates his wife into believing that she is going insane. In June 2018, the word hit UK headlines when domestic abuse charity “Women’s Aid” said a contestant on the reality television show Love Island exhibited ‘clear warning signs’ for this pattern of emotional abuse, with other commentators describing the behaviour as ‘textbook gaslighting’.

The concept has also been applied to political contexts this year, with the term used extensively of President Donald Trump, applied to the Conservative government’s treatment of the issue of Brexit and also in India, becoming part of the lexicon in the wake of the country’s own #MeToo movement, notably in discussions of campus culture at universities.


Incel, short for ‘involuntarily celibate’, is used as a self-descriptor by members of an online subculture who deem themselves chronically unable to attract romantic or sexual partners. They hold views that are hostile towards men and women who are sexually active.

Brought together on internet forums such as Reddit, these men hold that it is women who are to blame for their forced celibacy by ‘withholding’ sex. The online spaces where incels communicate – such as the /r/Incels subreddit, which was banned in November 2017 – have consequently become hotbeds for the incitement of violent misogyny.

The term was coined more than twenty years ago by a woman named Alana who started a website for men and women struggling to find love: Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project.

In April 2018, incel made front-page news when Alek Minassian drove a van into pedestrians on a Toronto street. It was discovered that shortly before the attack, Minassian had shared ‘The Incel Rebellion has already begun!’ in a now-deleted Facebook post. He name-checked Elliot Rodger, the perpetrator of the 2014 Isla Vista killings, a man who has since been idolized by incel groups.


Orbiting is the action of abruptly withdrawing from direct communication with someone while still monitoring, and sometimes responding to, their activity on social media.

The dating buzzword for 2018, orbiting was coined by Anna Iovine in an article for the Man Repeller blog in which she described a burgeoning relationship that abruptly ended due to an all but complete withdrawal by her would-be suitor who nevertheless persisted in engaging with her social media profiles. Iovine dubbed the experience orbiting after a colleague poetically described this phenomenon as a former suitor “keeping you in their orbit” – close enough to see each other; far enough never to talk.’ The phenomenon’s ubiquity ensured the term’s rapid spread on social media, striking a chord with many twenty-first-century daters.


An excessive number of tourist visits to a popular destination or attraction, resulting in damage to the local environment and historical sites and in poorer quality of life for residents.

Overtourism has become a heavy burden for numerous ‘must-see’ locations in recent years, with a sharp rise in holidaymakers fuelled by budget airlines and the widespread popularity of rental platforms, like Airbnb. The resultant overcrowding has caused environmental, infrastructural, and cultural damage to a number of destinations, and directly impacted local residents’ lives as they are priced out of their homes to accommodate the tourist demand.

According to Oxford data, use of overtourism shot up over the course of 2017, thanks in part to mass protests across Europe demanding action against the overtourism pandemic, and has subsequently emerged in 2018 as the go-to term, surpassing both ‘anti-tourism’ and ‘tourism-phobia’, which have been used to similar effect.


A strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley.

Once hailed as society’s heroes, the tech giants we know and (used to) love have been braced for the oncoming techlash for several years now, but in 2018 the storm truly hit. From George Soros’s attack on the monopolistic ‘menace’ of Facebook and Google at the World Economic Forum to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the public’s confidence in the tech industry’s ethics and ability to govern its creations has undermined the public’s confidence.

As such, 2018 has also seen a growing trend of young people giving up social media as concerns over their data privacy along with its impact on mental health supersede the desire to be online.