NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – Dictionary.com’s word of the year for 2016 is xenophobia, which the website defines as “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers.”
While Americans may see this choice as a direct result of the campaign for the White House, Dictionary.com says the United States wasn’t the driving force behind the choice.
In a blog post, Dictionary.com traces interest in the xenophobia to April 2015, when searches for xenophobia on the website spiked:
“This spike in lookups was connected to attacks on foreign workers and overall rising xenophobia in South Africa,” the blog post reads. “While lookups for xenophobia in the US also rose during that time, it was lookups from Dictionary.com’s worldwide users that made this particular surge so significant.”
The largest spike in searches was June 24, the day after the UK voted to leave the European Union (the Brexit referendum). And, soon after that on June 29, the second largest spike in searches popped up in Dictionary.com’s metrics. Dictionary.com connects this surge with a speech by President Barack Obama on that day in which he cautioned voters to distinguish between populism and xenophobia.
Dictionary.com points out that it doesn’t know why people were interested in the word xenophobia. Its metrics can’t tell us if searchers were unfamiliar with the word or simply wanted to check the spelling. Dictionary.com stresses that Word of the Year may be a title, but not necessarily a value judgement.
“Despite being chosen as the 2016 Word of the Year, xenophobia is not to be celebrated,” according to the website. “Rather it’s a word to reflect upon deeply in light of the events of the recent past.”