Oh, how I would love to take credit for Oxford Languages' announcement of "goblin mode" as its Word of the Year. Alas, my pointing people to the site last week to vote for either "goblin mode," "metaverse" or "#IStandWith" likely had little to do with it. For those who did vote for it, thank you. You made writing my column this week much more fun.
Oxford opened the choice to a public vote for the first time this year from a shortlist created by lexicographers; in two weeks more than 340,000 people voted, and it wasn't even close. UK website TimeOut noted: "The slang term was one of three potential choices selected by Oxford lexicographers, and won with a total of 318,956 votes--a whopping 93 percent of the overall vote. The runner-up was 'metaverse' with 14,484 votes, followed by '#IStandWith' with 8,639 votes."
When the result was announced on Twitter, there were a lot of people complaining that they'd never heard of it before, as well as the "but it's a phrase!!!" rebuttals that seem to happen every time a dictionary names a phrase as its Word of the Year. As a word nerd, this bothers me not at all; "fake news," "carbon footprint" and "dumpster fire" have all been somewhat recent phrasal Words of the Year. Those people might try looking at a dictionary sometime to see that phrases are included as well since sometimes a phrase has come to mean something different than its component parts mean separately.
But what does it mean? According to Oxford, "'Goblin mode'--a slang term, often used in the expressions 'in goblin mode' or 'to go goblin mode'--is 'a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.'"
So ... basically feral.
"Although first seen on Twitter in 2009, goblin mode went viral on social media in February 2022, quickly making its way into newspapers and magazines after being tweeted in a mocked-up headline. The term then rose in popularity over the months following as covid lockdown restrictions eased in many countries and people ventured out of their homes more regularly. Seemingly, it captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to 'normal life,' or rebelled against the increasingly unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media."
I've never had the money or time to achieve those standards, and as a longtime hermit, I resemble those remarks, except for "greedy" ... unless chocolate or kisses from fur-nephew Charlie are involved. Of course, when I hear "goblin mode," I don't think so much in those terms, but more the plastic-eating goblins (sometimes gremlins) referenced on Twitter and elsewhere ... like Charlie, who has probably never met a piece of plastic he didn't think was right tasty.
But Charlie is an awfully cute goblin, and those of us who love him just try to keep the temptation down to a minimum.
Of the official Oxford definition, the dictionary's blog noted: "The Oxford Corpus lists many vivid examples of goblin mode, including 'Goblin mode is like when you wake up at 2 a.m. and shuffle into the kitchen wearing nothing but a long T-shirt to make a weird snack, like melted cheese on saltines,' as quoted in The Guardian newspaper. More recently, an opinion piece in The Times stated that 'too many of us ... have gone goblin mode in response to a difficult year.'"
Metaverse, which refers to a virtual-reality environment in which people interact with others' avatars as an extension or replacement for the Internet, and #IStandWith, referring to a social media hashtag to identify issue stances, didn't stand a chance.
American linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer, at an event to announce the dictionary's decision to open up its Word of the Year to public votes, said, "Goblin mode really does speak to the times and the zeitgeist, and it is certainly a 2022 expression. People are looking at social norms in new ways. It gives people the license to ditch social norms and embrace new ones."
And who could blame us, really?
Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Languages, said, "We were hoping the public would enjoy being brought into the process, but this level of engagement with the campaign caught us totally by surprise. The strength of the response highlights how important our vocabulary is to understanding who we are and processing what's happening to the world around us. Given the year we've just experienced, 'Goblin mode' resonates with all of us who are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point.
"It's a relief to acknowledge that we're not always the idealized, curated selves that we're encouraged to present on our Instagram and TikTok feeds. This has been demonstrated by the dramatic rise of platforms like BeReal where users share images of their unedited selves, often capturing self-indulgent moments in goblin mode. People are embracing their inner goblin, and voters choosing 'goblin mode' as the Word of the Year tells us the concept is likely here to stay."
Like I needed an excuse.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.